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OF 1851 












OF 1851 



University of California Publications in History 
Volume XII 





Herbert Eugene Bolton, Editor 

Vol. 1. Studies in American History. 

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Vol. 12. History of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, by Mary Floyd 
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Medal of the 8aii Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1856. ''Organ- 
ized 9th June 1851. Eeorganized 14th Mav, 1856." From the collection 
of Mr. Charles B. Tiirrill. 



OF 1851 







Copyrighted, 1921 


Mary Floyd Williams 
All rights reserved 






FROM 1847 TO 1913 



Acknowledgments ix-x 

Abbreviations Used in Footnotes xii 

Introduction 1-19 


The California Frontier, 1846-1851 


The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 23-39 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 40-52 


El Dorado 53-65 


Vox PopuLi in the Mines of California 66-87 

The Struggle for Organization 88-115 

The Fabrication of the Commonwealth 116-135 


The Failure to Establish Social Control 136-159 


The San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 162-185 


The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 186-207 


The Committee at Work 208-226 


The Records for June 227-251 


James Stuart, Outlaw 252-274 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 275-304 


Adventures in Crime 305-322 


Politics and Reorgjanization 323-337 

The Closing Months 338-355 


A Summary of Methods 356-387 


'51 TO 77 388-408 


Lynch Law as a National Problem 409-427 

In Retrospect 428-440 

Biographical Notes 441-452 

Documentary Appendix 453-473 

Bibliography 474-518 

Index . 519-543 


Medal of Committee of Vigilance of 1856 Frontispiece 

TO face page 

Portrait of William T. Coleman 190 

Portrait of Samuel Brannan 212 

Facsimile of Proclamation by Governor John McDougal 

Relative to the Committee of Vigilance of 1851 298 


It is pleasant to work in libraries, and in acknowledg'ing a 
debt of gratitude that I owe to many friends, I would mention, 
first, the librarians w^ho have made this work of research pos- 
sible, Professor Herbert I. Priestley and Mr. Joseph J. Hill, of 
the Bancroft Library, Miss Eudora Garoutte, of the California 
State Library, and Dr. George Watson Cole, of the Henr\^ E. 
Huntington Library, at San Gabriel, California. 

I would record, with sincere appreciation, the kindness of 
President David P. Barrows, of the University of California, 
and that of Professors William Carey Jones, Walter M. Hart, 
Thomas H. Reed, Harold L. Bruce, and Charles E. Chapman- 
busy men who have taken the time to read this volume in advance 
of publication, and have given me the benefit of their criticisms. 
Professor Edward Channing, of Harvard University, was also 
kind enough to read the manuscript in an early form, and to 
offer me advice that proved exceedingly valuable. Dr. Owen C. 
Coy, secretary of the California Historical Survey Commission, 
has directed me to important state records, and Mr. R. S. 
Kuykendall has placed at my disposal his notes on the history 
of California newspapers. Mr. Robert E. Cowan, an authority 
on Califomiana, has examined the proof of the bibliography, and 
suggested some interesting additions to the entries relating to 
the Committees of Vigilance. 

Especial thanks are due to Professor Frederick J. Teggart, 
who directed my graduate work in its early stages, and to 
Professor Eugene McCormac, wiio has given me counsel and 
encouragement on many occasions when they were sorely needed. 

I am much indebted to Professor Herbert E. Bolton for 
assistance in investigating the frontier problems that developed 
in California. In addition to this service, Professor Bolton has 

devoted careful attention to the many details of form and print- 
ing that have come to his attention as editor of the University 
series of Publications in History. 

I must name another — Professor Henry Morse Stephens — 
whose suggestion first led me to undertake this study, and whose 
unfailing interest in its progress furnished the strongest incen- 
tive that carried it forward to completion. Professor Stephens 
died in April, 1919, and it is a cause of infinite regret to me that 
the book was then only in manuscript, and that my tribute to 
the inspiration of a remarkable teacher comes too late to fall 
beneath his eyes. 

Mary Floyd Williams. 


The footnotes of this volimie cite Congressional Documents in a somewhat 
unusual manner. No mention is made of the title of the session of Congress, 
nor of the legislative body (Senate or House) that may be considered as 
author. The various papers are cited solely by the ''Serial Number" and 
the ' ' Document Number ' ' under which they appear in the bound series of 
documents and the official cheek list. This method affords a concise but 
definite guide to the original authority, while the expanded entry in the 
Classified List of Material gives full details of publication. 

Owing to the dearth of official documents relating to the early history 
of California, the local newspapers are of unusual importance, and references 
to them give not only the date, but also the exact position of the statement 
quoted, page and column being indicated by figures separated by an oblique 
line. Thus, Alia, 1851, April 1 %, refers to page two, column three, of the 
issue named. 

The other abbreviations employed are quite obvious, and bibliographical 
information omitted from the footnotes will be found in the Classified List 
of Material. 


When James Bryce wrote The American Commonwealth he 
remarked with surprise that little attention had then been paid 
to the individual histories of the separate states.^ Since that 
time the neglected subject has received a great deal of careful 
investigation: there has been much study and writing of local 
history, and sources of every kind have been carefully collected 
and published. 

For the American period of California, however, little real 
progress has been made during the last thirty years, for, with 
the exception of a few students of special subjects, later writers 
have been content to reassemble material already in print, and 
to give it fresh vitality by fluency of style or touches of pictur- 
esque color. Bancroft's works, in particular, have been quoted 
most freely, and it cannot be denied that his analysis of the 
sources of California history was extraordinarily minute, and 
that the references in his voluminous footnotes are invaluable 
guides for nearly every line of research. But the synthesis of 
his text is less reliable, and it is dangerous to accept it as an 
adequate presentation of any specific period or event. 

Fortunately nearly all of Bancroft's sources are still accessible 
to the student, for his large collection of books and manuscripts 
has remained intact, and in 1905 it became the property of the 
University of California. The purchase of this important library 
was due, in great measure, to the efforts of the late Henry 
Morse Stephens, who was then the head of the Department of 
History in the University. Professor Stephens had an especial 
enthusiasm for the publication of documentary sources of his- 
tory, and he was ambitious that many of the unique treasures 

1 James Bryce, American Commonwealth, ed. of 1914, I, 412 (ed. 1, 

2 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of the Bancroft Library should be edited and printed as fast 
as funds could be procured for the purpose. The Academy of 
Pacific Coast History, with its interesting series of publications, 
has been a practical expression of his efforts in this direction. 

One of the items in the Bancroft Librarj^ which strongly 
appealed to Professor Stephens' sense of historical values was 
the file of the archives of the San Francisco Committee of 
Vigilance of 1851. 

The stories of that remarkable association, and of its successor 
of 1856, have been told more than once. Probably every reader 
of these pages already knows that the men who organized them 
were respectable and influential members of the body politic; 
that for brief periods they assumed unlawful control over 
criminal matters in their city; that they arrested and confined 
prisoners at their own discretion, hanged whom they would, and 
banished from the state citizens and aliens whose presence they 
deemed a menace to public order, while the community not only 
tolerated their usurpation of power, but supported them in the 
infliction of the most condign punishments. But it is not so 
generally known that these societies which defied the law regu- 
lated their conduct by the ordinary practices of parliamentary 
procedure, and kept careful records of their daily actions. 

When Bancroft was preparing his Popular Trihunals he 
had access to the papers of both Committees, and those of 1851 
were finally given to him outright by the former secretary, 
Mr. Isaac Bluxome, Jr.^ They include the roll of the signers of 
the constitution, lists of names proposed for membership, minutes, 
reports, and financial accounts and vouchers. Professor Stephens 
was convinced that these archives had great value as a contribu- 
tion to local history, and as a documentary record of unusual 
human interest, and as soon as the Bancroft Library was trans- 
ferred to the University he planned for the publication in full 

2 H. H. Bancroft, Literary Industries, 1890, pp. 658-660. 

Introduction 3 

of the Papers of the Committee of Vigilance. In 1910 the List 
of 31 embers, edited by Mr. Porter Garnett, appeared as a con- 
tribution to the first volume of the publications of the Academy 
of Pacific Coast History. Mr. Garnett also edited Part II of 
the Papers, the List of Names Approved hy the Committee on 
Qualification, and the pamphlet was included in the second 
volume published by the Academy. But the labor involved in 
arranging and annotating the mass of minutes and miscellaneous 
papers promised to be very great, and it was not definitely 
commenced until Professor Stephens asked me to undertake it 
as graduate work in the Department of History. As the plans 
for publication were first outlined, it was intended that the 
documents should be given a preface that would furnish a neces- 
sary background of local conditions, and that both preface and 
documents should be printed together in two consecutive volumes 
of the Academy series. 

The task of editing the documents advanced very slowly, and 
various puzzling questions arose as to the method of arranging 
them for the press, and of reproducing their characteristic style 
and atmosphere. The larger portion consists of loose pages of 
manuscript, and it was decided to group them in accordance 
with the chronological system adopted by Secretary Bluxome 
in filing the records committed to his care.^ This necessitated 
the wide separation of many pages that were closely connected 
in subject; consequently the documents, as printed, do not form 
a coherent history of the events they describe, although they 
provide a reliable source from which most of that history can 
be compiled. 

It was an important and fascinating part of the editorial 
work to unravel the separate threads of this tangled skein, to 
trace the development of official policies, to gather together 

3 See San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, Papers, III, 1919, pp. 
viii-ix. (Hereafter cited as Papers.) 

4 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

scattered but related references, and to explain obscure allusions 
by research in old newspapers and in the reminiscences of 
pioneers. This process finally resulted in a very definite recon- 
struction of the history of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851, 
based upon hundreds of original records, and verified by the 
testimony of actors and spectators. And this account differed 
materially from other narratives of the work of the Committee ; 
for the secondary historians had over-emphasized a few melo- 
dramatic and crucial incidents, and had practically ignored the 
most distinguishing characteristics of the organization — the 
sincere conviction on the part of its members that they were 
justified in usurping temporary jurisdiction over the criminal 
problems of the city, and their conscientious and laborious efforts 
to exercise this self-assumed office with justice as well as with 
courage. The Vigilantes were never oblivious of the fact that 
their actions were open to the most serious objections, and the 
care taken to preserve their papers was largely due to their desire 
that future criticism should be based on exact knowledge of the 
course they had pursued.* 

As progress w^as made in arranging the archives, it became 
more and more apparent that a detailed story of the Committee 
should also be published for the use of those who had neither 
the inclination nor the time to decipher the confused pages of the 
volume of documents. It was therefore decided that the archives 
should be bound by themselves for the special convenience of 
the research worker, and that, in place of the contemplated 
preface, the editor should embody the results of her study of the 
entire subject in a separate volume. 

A most perplexing problem developed in seeking an appro- 
priate point of departure for the narrative as a whole. It was 
comparatively simple to name and describe the members of the 
Committee, since many of them were distinguished by years of 

4 See Papers, 639, 683-684. 

Introduction ^ 

civic and commercial usefulness. It was equally simple to recount 
their actions during 1851 and 1852, for the records spoke for 
themselves. But when all that was done, there arose an inevi- 
table and insistent question : ' ' Why did such men do such things ? ' ' 
The answer could not be elicited solely from the archives of the 
Committee, nor did the general histories of California afford an 
adequate and satisfactory explanation. 

As Professor Stephens has said in a brief introduction to 
the documents of the Committee, the significance of any his- 
torical event is a matter of interpretation, every generation 
regards the past from a different angle, and the emphasis in 
interpretation shifts with the shifting standpoints of historical 
criticism.^ Seventy years have passed since the organization 
of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851, and already one can 
recognize a succession of interpretations of that particular society 
and of its allied institutions, the miners' courts of California 
and the other popular tribunals of the entire western area. 

The contemporary observer usually formed his judgment on 
the basis of efficiency. To him the protection of life and property 
was a matter of vital importance. When he found that crim- 
inals were terrified into unwilling docility by lynch law and vigi- 
lance committees, he commended such social expedients, although 
he might lament their incidental cruelty and deprecate their 
defiance of the principles of representative government. 

The writers of the next generation, comfortably remote from 
the dangers that confronted the pioneer, showed a marked 
inclination to discuss the history of the earlier decades in uncom- 
promising terms of right and wrong. Three important studies 
of the social life of California during the crisis of the gold fever 
appeared with singular sequence in three successive years: 
Charles Howard Shinn's Mining Camps in 1885, Josiah Eoyce's 
California in 1886, and Bancroft's Popular Tribunals in 1887. 

5 Papers, iii. 

6 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

In preparing his interesting monograph on the mining camps, 
Shinn took pains to familiarize himself with books already in 
print, and with the local records and the newspapers of the 
period. He also had much conversation and correspondence with 
surviving Argonauts, who were then, however, removed more 
than a quarter of a century from the period they were asked to 
describe. The material thus collected is picturesque, vivid, and 
of great value, although deficient in exactness of reference. It 
has been freely quoted by all later writers, but it is evident that 
the author's wide acquaintance with the makers of California 
history and his sincere admiration of their sterling qualities 
led him to adopt their point of view as his own, for his book 
reflects only the most favorable and optimistic of contemporary 

Professor Royce, on the other hand, while he used some of 
the same documentary material as did Shinn, based much of his 
criticism of early social conditions on the diary and recollections 
of his mother, and on the letters of ' ' Dame Shirley, ' ' a homesick 
New Englander, who spent some unhappy months in a California 
mining town. Both these women had keen powers of observa- 
tion and scrupulous convictions as to righteousness and evil. 
Their influence no doubt accentuated the philosopher's tendency 
to judge the California pioneer by absolute standards of ideal 
citizenship, to attribute his failures to a sinful neglect of all 
personal and communal responsibilities, and to describe the 
resultant confusion as a time of retribution when the ''restless 
and suffering social order" purged itself through struggle and 

When H. H. Bancroft undertook to cover a part of the same 
field in his Popular Tribunals he obtained direct access to the 
archives of the Committees of Vigilance of 1851 and 1856. These 

6 See Josiah Royce, California, 1886, pp. 279, 314-316. 

7 Hid., 344-356, 402, 406. ''Shirley" was a pseudonym for Mrs. Louise 
A. K. Clappe. 

Introduction 7 

afforded a new and reliable source of information on two im- 
portant incidents that were typical of the spirit of the people 
of the state in the first decade of the commonwealth. The his- 
torian also supplemented these official records by obtaining inter- 
views with some of the more prominent members, and securing 
from them dictated statements of their personal recollections. 
But Mr. Bancroft was alwaj^s an out and out champion of the 
Vigilantes, and he was so eager to show their lofty ideals and 
heroic personalities that although his reconstruction of the his- 
tory of the Committee of 1851 was drawn from original docu- 
ments and personal reminiscences it neglected all the prosaic 
groundwork of painstaking detail, and often sacrificed exactness 
to melodrama. 

Different as are these three interpretations in their conclu- 
sions, they have in common a distinctly moral point of view, and 
the writers commend or condemn, firm in the conviction of the 
inherent righteousness or wickedness of their segregated groups 
of good citizens and bad. The historical student of today is less 
inclined to pose as a dispenser of halos and of gridirons. He 
plucks the angels and he dehorns the devils whom he costumes 
for his historical pageant; and seeing in them men and women 
little better and little worse than those he knows in the intimacy 
of daily life, he seeks to explain their deeds by an understanding 
of the social conditions that impelled them to action. 

The ''Days of '49" has become a name to conjure with; in 
the popular imagination the real significance of the period has 
largely been obscured by the dominating figure of the bearded 
miner, with his pickaxe, his pistol, his strange oaths, and his 
sanguinary device of a rogue pendent. Although that miner was 
a product of the stout and virile life of the whole American 
frontier, the historians of 1885 had not awakened to the im- 
portant influence of the frontier as a constant force in the devel- 
opment of our nation during the entire period when the tide of 

8 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

pioneer life was sweeping forward from the fall line of the 
Atlantic streams towards the placers of the Bio de los Americanos. 
They wrote of the Californian as of an American in unique cir- 
cumstances, who faced his own peculiar problems with certain 
racial predispositions. But in 1921 the historian no longer 
depicts the Californian as a foundling of the gold mines, with 
the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas cast like a bar sinister across 
the escutcheon of his American paternity. The Argonaut is 
recognized as the legitimate offspring of an honorable race of 
pioneers, who were everywhere audacious and conservative, sus- 
picious and optimistic, ready to grapple immensity with their 
naked hands, competent to build in the wilderness states based 
on the traditions of their Puritan forefathers, jealous of every 
measure put forth to restrain their arrogant individualism, and 
sublimely confident that the common sense of the majority would 
save any community, small or large, from the one unpardonable 
sin of self-destruction. 

The frontier has ever been the laboratorj^ of American 
democracy, where fearless men lay hold of the elemental forces 
that construct and destroy human society. After them have 
come the theorists, lamenting the catastrophes, explaining the 
triumphs, and formulating from the litter of the workshop gen- 
eralizations and warnings for artisans of a more cautious regime. 
The frontiersman in California dealt with conditions and special 
problems unlike those developed in the Trans- Alleghany valleys 
and the Mississippi watershed, but his equipment to meet the new 
environment corresponded very closely with that of American 
frontiersmen of every generation. As a necessary introduction, 
therefore, to the study of the California pioneer, we must restate 
here certain*"essential characteristics and tendencies of the Amer- 
ican national spirit. 

Introduction 9 

The long succession of social experiments which had accom- 
panied the extension of the frontier diverged widely in individual 
features ; but they were all founded on a common acceptance of 
the theory that the state was created by a voluntary compact 
between contracting parties who possessed various inherent 
rights. The theory included the conception of a period when 
society was still unorganized, and when men lived in simple 
enjoyment of all their natural rights, subject only to certain 
laws of God and of Nature. It was conceded that under par- 
ticular circumstances, such as the violation of the contract by 
one of the subscribers, or the migration of a special group beyond 
the area in which an existing compact was binding, the organized 
people might resolve themselves into their original elements, and 
in their primary capacity resume the exercise of their natural 
rights, or form a new compact suited to changed conditions.^ 

This theory was preached by theologians and expounded by 
statesmen until it became an integral part of the national thought ; 
it was the essence of the doctrine of the consent of the governed, 
it was the underlying force that impelled the Pilgrims of the 
Mayflower to pledge to each other mutual support and loyalty 
when they were obliged to establish their colony outside of the 
territory in which their patent rights were valid. From that 
day forward covenants of various kinds became the resource of 
the American settlers whenever they found themselves without the 
formal bonds and safeguards of constitutional government or in 
a situation where normal institutions failed to fulfill their legiti- 
mate functions. Many a New England town inaugurated its 

8 The folloAving references are useful in tracing the effect of the theory 
of the social contract on the establishment of institutions in American com- 
munities: A. C. McLaughlin, ''Social Compact and Constitutional Con- 
struction," American Historical Review, V (1900), 467-490; A. B. Hart, 
''Growth of American Theories of Popular Government," American Political 
Science Review, I (1907), 531-560; Charles Borgeaud, Rise of Modern 
Bemocracy in Old and New England, 1894, pp. 77-90, 105-168; H. L. 
Osgood, '"'Political Ideas of the Puritans," Political Science Quarterhj, VI 
(1891), 1-28; C. E. Merriam, History of American Political Theories, 1903, 
chaps. 2, 4; F. A. Cleveland, Organi-zcd Democracy, 1913, pp. 34^45; C. S. 
Lobingier, The People's Law, 1909, chaps. 5-7. 

10 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

civic life with a compact modeled on the Mayflower document;^ 
the Scotch-Irish of the Alleghanies also understood how to asso- 
ciate themselves for mutual protection ;^° and as the frontier 
pushed westward there was constant illustration of the tendency 
to crystallize the public opinion of the scattered communities 
into a practical medium of government under the form of 
compacts, especially as to the preservation of order and the 
occupation of land. 

Such agreements were written and signed in pre-Revolution- 
ary times by the people of North and South Carolina, who formed 
societies of ''Regulators" to punish crime and to check the 
extortion practiced by dishonest officials. In South Carolina, 
where the associations appeared as early as 1764, they were 
suppressed with difficulty. In North Carolina the Regulation 
was active from 1768 to 1771, and persisted until the tragic 
battle of the Alamance dispersed the insurgents, and subsequent 
trials resulted in the execution of some of the leaders.^^ In 1772 
the settlers at Watauga, beyond the pale of colonial organiza- 
tion, signed the first written constitution adopted by men of 
American birth, a compact which made the will of the majority 
practically supreme, and which remained in force for the six 

9 See Lois K. Mathews, ' ' The Mayflower Compact and Its Descendants, ' ' 
Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Proceedings, VI (1912-1913), 
79-106; F. J. Turner, ''Western State-Making in the Eevolutionary Era," 
American Historical Beview, 1 (1895-1896), especially pp. 70-87; Allen 
Johnson, ''Genesis of Popular Sovereignty," loiva Journal of History and 
Politics, III (1905), 3-19. 

10 See Theodore Eoosevelt, Winning of the West, 1889-1896, I, 101-133. 

11 See North Carolina, Colonial Records, 1886-1890, Introductions to VII, 
VIII. The agreements of the Eegulators, accessible through the Index of 
this series, are very suggestive of the records of the Committee of Vigilance. 
The Regulation movement may be further studied in J. E. Cutler, Lyncli- 
Law, ]905, chaps. 2-3; David Ramsay, History of South-Carolina, 1809, I, 
211-215; J. H. Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina, 1851, I, 
48-60; II, 10-20, 301-331; J. S. Bassett, "Regulators of North Carolina," 
American Historical Association, Aniiual Report, 1894, pp. 141-212 ; M. DeL. 
Haywood, Governor William Tryon, 1903, pp. 77-194; S. A'C. Ashe, History 
of North Carolina, 1908, I, 336-376; Archibald Henderson, "Origin of the 
Regulation in North Carolina," American Historical Review, XXI (1916), 
320-332. V y, 

Introduction 11 

years that elapsed before the neighborhood was incorporated 
as Washington County in the state of North Carolina.^^ 

Immediately after the Revolution many western settlements 
took the initial steps in local organization without waiting for 
action of the Continental Congress. In one case, indeed, the 
state of Franklin sustained itself in isolated democracy for sev- 
eral years." The land clubs and claim associations of the Old 
Northwest applied the same principle of voluntary alliance to 
the mutual protection of homesteaders' rights, and were based 
on written agreements that furnish some of the most character- 
istic documents of American local history.^^ ''All through these 
compacts," wrote Professor F. J. Turner, ''runs the doctrine 
that the people in an unoccupied land have the right to determine 
their own political institutions," and he cited a declaration made 
by a committee reporting to the legislature of Wisconsin as late 
as 1843, in which it was stated that all "political communities 
have the right of governing themselves in their own way within 
their lawful boundaries. "^^ 

12 See J. G. M. Eamsey, Annuls of Tennessee, 1853, pp. 106-140; Eoose- 
velt, Winning of the West, I, chap. 7. 

13 See Eamsey, Annals of Tennessee, 283-444; G. H. Alden, New Gov- 
ernments West of the Alleghanies hefore 1780, 1897; and his ''State of 
Franklin," American Historical Bevicw, VIII (1903), 271-289; ''Petition 
for a Western State," Mississippi Valley Historical Beview, I (1914), 
265-269; Eoosevelt, Winning of the West, II, 324^369; III, 153-202; 
A W. Putnam, History of Middle Tennessee, 1859, pp. 89-103; Archibald 
Henderson, Eichard Henderson: the Authorship of the Cumberland Compact 
and the Founding of Nashville, 1916; C. S. Lobin^er, The People's Law, 
chap. 8. Citizen committees did useful work in Mississippi in 1797 and 
1798, see F. L. Eiley, "Transition from Spanish to American Eule m Mis- 
sissippi," Mississippi Historical Society, FuUications, III (1900), 275-311. 

14 See B. F. Shambaugh, "Frontier Land Clubs or Claim Associations, ^ 
American Historical Association, Annual Beport, 1900, I, 67-84; and his 
Constitution and Becords of the Claim Association of Johnson County, loiva, 
1894; Jesse Macy, Institutional Beginnings in a Western State [Iowa], 
1884; Brigham Johnson, "Frontier Life in Iowa in the Forties," Maga- 
zine of History, XVIII (1914), 23-28; G. E. Howard, Introduction to the 
Local Constitutional History of the United States, 1889, I, 411-412. 

15 Turner, "Western State-Making," American Historical Bevieiv, I 
(1895-1896), 265-266. The characteristics of the frontier as a form of 
society rather than as a geographic area are further discussed by Professor 

12 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The American precedent of voluntary association was fol- 
lowed by the revolutionists in Texas when they sought indepen- 
dence from Mexico. In 1835 they formed local "committees of 
safety," primarilj^ to provide protection against Indians, and 
these became the nucleus for the general representative Council 
of Safety which for a time constituted the central government.^^ 
The provisional government of the people of Oregon, one of the 
most successful experiments in frontier organization, was another 
striking example of social agreement. It is said that the very 
term "compact" was preferred to "constitution" by some of 
the leaders of the movement,^^ and provision was made for the 
voluntary withdrawal of anyone who might desire to revert to 
the unsocial state of nature by discontinuing his financial con- 
tributions to the common cause. 

Successive experiments and expanding national life have 
modified the theory of the social compact. Our people have 
learned that even in a democracy changes in adopted contracts 
must be made in orderly ways, and that, if we are to have a 
government of law rather than of caprice, there must be some 
"machinery short of revolution "^^ to determine whether the 
compact has been observed. But it has been necessary to recog- 
nize here the powerful influence exerted upon American thought 

Turner in various articles collected in his The Frontier in American History, 
1920. See also his List of References on the History of the West, ed. of 
1913; Justin Winsor, Westward Movement, 1763-1798, 1897; R. T. Hill, 
The Public Domain and Democracy, 1910; the opening chapters of W. E. 
Weyl, The New Democracy, 1912. 

16 H. K. Yoakum, History of Texas, 1856, I, 337, 355-379, passim; 
H. H. Bancroft, History of the North Mexican States and Texas, II (1889), 
155 et seq.; H. S. Foote, Texas and the Texans, 1841, II, 83-86, 128 et seq.; 
''Journal of the Permanent Council (October 11-27, 1835)," Texas State 
Historical Association, Quarterly, VII (1904), 250-278. 

17 See J. R. Robertson, ''Genesis of Popular Government in Oregon," 
Oregon Historical Society, Quarterly, I (1900), 1-59; W. H. Gray, His- 
tory of Oregon, 1870, p. 336 et seq.; H. H. Bancroft, History of Oregon, 
1886-1888, I, chaps. 12, 16, 18; H. S. Lyman, History of Oregon, 1903, III, 
274 et seq.; W. C. Woodward, Rise and Early History of Political Parties 
in Oregon, 1913, pp. 13-34; Oregon Archives, 1853. 

18 A. B. Hart, National Ideals Historically Traced, 1907, p. 100. 

Introduction 13 

by this theory of the state, because it found enduring expression 
in man}^ of the institutions of the frontier, and asserted itself 
very definitely in California during all the period under our 
especial consideration. 

Closely linked with the conception of a state based on a 
voluntary compact was the distrust of a centralized form of 
government which profoundly influenced the men who inaugu- 
rated the social life of our nation. The utmost liberty of action 
in domestic affairs was demanded by all the local groups and 
they subordinated their individual rights with reluctance to any 
superior authority. One result of this attitude was the develop- 
ment of a loose system of state government in which there 
was a marked sacrifice of efficiency in conducting matters that 
pertained to the common welfare. But self-government, not 
efficiency, was the passion of the first American colonists, and 
that passion they transmitted to the sons and grandsons who 
continued their work. Fathers and sons, alike, dared to be 
inefficient and to make mistakes, if in that way they could learn 
for themselves how the self -governed might perform those social 
tasks which had previously been centralized under kings and 
ministers of state. 

One of the most difficult problems that arose under the 
decentralized system of American local government was the 
suppression of disorder in the outer line of settlements that 
constantly advanced beyond the convenient operation of the 
law, and from a very early period the frontiersmen exercised a 
self-assumed criminal jurisdiction which was commonly sustained 
by the mutual consent of the neighborhood immediately con- 
cerned. Professor Turner said :^^ 

It was the multiplicity of revolutionary associations, and the ease with 
which they might run into the form taken by the Vigilance Committees of 
the far West, that led even so ardent a follower of revolutionary principles 

19 Turner, "Western State-Making," American Historical Beview, I 
(1895-1896), 265-266. 

14 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

as Patrick Henry to declare in 1786 regarding the defenseless condition of 
the western frontier, ''that protection which is the best and general object 
of social compact is withdrawn, and the people, thus consigned to destruc- 
tion, will naturally form associations, disgraceful as they are destructive of 
government. ' ' 

Even before Patrick Henry uttered his warning, the possi- 
bility of which he spoke had already become a reality. The 
Regulators of Colonial days had bound themselves to make com- 
mon cause against horse thieves and other criminals, and they 
had subsequently arrested such undesirable neighbors, tried them 
in a summary fashion, and chastised the guilty by stripes deemed 
appropriate to their misdeeds. The general excitement and dis- 
order incident to the Revolution stimulated the tendency towards 
the punishment of criminals or unpopular persons by groups 
which assumed a quasi-representative function. The famous Bos- 
ton Tea Party was a manifestation of such an impulse, and the 
numerous committees of safety throughout the colonies consti- 
tuted an efficient force for the pursuit and punishment of sus- 
pected Tories. ^^ An interesting summary of these Colonial and 
Revolutionary movements is given in the opening chapters of 
J. E. Cutler's Lynch-Law. In the opinion of that author, the 
much disputed origin of the term ''lynch law" may be traced 
to a self-appointed court of Revolutionary days in Virginia, 
where Charles Lynch, William Preston, Robert Adams, Jr., and 
James Callaway disciplined the rogues and the Tories of Bed- 
ford County.^'^ After the war was ended, damages were sought 

20 See E. D. Collins, ' ' Committees of Correspondence of the American 
Revolution," American Historical Association, Beport, 1901, I, 245-271; 
Agnes Hunt, Provincial Committees of Safety of the American Bevolution, 
1904 ; J, M. Leake, The Virginia Committee System and the American Bevo- 
lution, 1917. Handbills printed in Philadelphia and New York, 1773 and 
1774, suggest notices issued by the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance 
of 1851 (see E. M. Avery, History of the United States, 1904-1910, V, 

21 Cutler, Lynch-Law, 13-40. See also H. H. Bancroft, Popular Trib- 
unals, 1887, I, 6-7; The Green Bag, IV (1892), 561-562. Before the 
Revolution Lynch had acted as a justice of the peace {Lynch-Law, 25 note) 
and Preston and Callaway had also represented the colonial government as 
lieutenants of the county {Green Bag, V [1893], 116). 

Introduction 15 

for some of the penalties inflicted, but the General Assembly 
of Virginia decided that the proceedings, while not strictly war- 
ranted by law, were justified by the imminence of the danger. 

A like necessity constantly existed all along the line of the 
westward advance where there was always a definite element 
of dangerous criminals. The same impulse towards organization 
that moved the pioneers to combine in land claim associations 
led them to seek protection from lawlessness by concerted effort 
to secure the punishment of crime. It became a general custom 
to improvise a kind of pseudo court wherever and whenever a 
flagrant offender incurred public censure.-^ There was also a 
marked tendency to increase the severity of punishment; while 
discipline prior to 1830 was seldom more severe than whipping, 
the frequent executions of a later date made the term ' ' to lynch ' ' 
almost synonymous with ' ' to hang. ' '-^ 

A popular trial destined to attract wide attention was that 
of a murderer named Patrick 'Conner, convicted in May, 1834, 
by the people of Dubuque 's Mines, in unorganized country north 
of Missouri. The courts of Illinois had no jurisdiction in the 
region, and during the month that elapsed before the sentence 
was executed the governor of Missouri refused to interfere, while 
an appeal to President Jackson elicited the reply that even he 
had no authority in the case, as the laws of the United States had 
not been extended over that part of the Louisiana Purchase. 
'Conner was finally hanged with the solemnity befitting a legal 
execution. In commenting on the case the Niles Register said r^* 

22 The Green Mountain boys of Vermont protected their land titles by 
lynch law (the use of the birch) in the days of early settlement (Turner, 
''The Old West," in his Frontier in American History, 78). See also 
Koosevelt, Winning of the West, 1, 132 note 1, 187 note 1; J. L. McConnel, 
Western Characteristics, 1853, pp. 171-245 passim. 

23 Cutler, Lynch-Law, 116 et seq. 

24 See also Eliphalet Price, "Trial and Execution of Patrick O 'Conner," 
Annals of loiua, ser. I, III (1865), 566-574; Jesse Macy, Institutionnl 
Beginnings in a Western State, 7-8; Cutler, Lynch-Law, 86-88; Niles 
Begister, XLVI (1834), 352; Des Moines i^e^i^^er and Leader, 1910, Sept. 25. 

16 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

As laAV, in every country, emanates from the people, and is, in fact, 
whether written or not, nothing more nor less than certain rules of action 
by which a people agree to be governed, the unanimous agreement among 
that people to put a man to death for the crime of murder, rendered the 
act legal to all intents and purposes. . . . They have taught the world that 
the people are the basis of law, even where no written law can be applied. 

Turner has said that the Westerner, impatient of restraint, 
placed himself under influences destructive to many of the gains 
of civilization, but that he knew how to preserve order even in 
the absence of legal authority. "If there were cattle thieves, 
lynch law was sudden and effective : the regulators of the Caro- 
linas were the predecessors of the claims associations of Iowa and 
the vigilance committees of California. ... If the thing was one 
proper to be done, then the most immediate, rough and ready, 
effective way was the best way."^^ 

Bancroft called these extra-legal courts "popular tribunals." 
The term describes them well and at the same time it relates 
the popular trials of the American frontier to the protective 
measures adopted by European communities in periods or crises 
when central governments were not strong enough to preserve 
order. Popular committees and associations for the suppression 
of crime have been of importance in the social development of 
many nations. Trial by popular assembly was a recognized 
practice in the Athenian democracy, as well as in the Teutonic 
tribes before the development of the jury system. ^^ The Yem- 
gericht of Germany and the Santa Hermandad of Spain and 
the Spanish colonies were not only supported by the people at 
large but were tolerated and sometimes fostered by the authori- 
ties when justice could not be administered by due process 
of law. The medieval towns of France had their defensive 

25 Turner, ' ' The Problem of the West, ' ' in his Frontier in American 
History, 209-212, passim. 

26 See Victor Duruy, History of Greece, tr. by M. M. Eipley, 1890, I, 
538 et seq.; Sir H. S. Maine, Early Law and Custom, 1886, chap. 6. 

Introduction 17 

conf retries. The local history of England and the Scottish border 
recounts many acts of extra-legal retribution. ^^ 

The inter-relation of these various tribunals and of the many 
secret societies which are allied to them is a subject far more 
inclusive than the study of any particular local committee, and 
generalizations can have little value unless they are based on 
exact knowledge of the many associations involved. ^^ 

No attempt has been made in this volume to cover so wide 
a field, or to question how far the popular tribunals of this 
century were indigenous and spontaneous, and how far they 
were influenced by European tradition and inheritance.^^ The 
social emergencies of the American frontier were very different 
from the social emergencies of medieval Europe, whatever may 
have been the kinship between the sturdy pioneers of the West 
and the resolute brotherhoods of earlier centuries. 

For more than two centuries, and under many varying 
circumstances, the American pioneers experimented in empire 
building from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the Pacific. 

27 See L. J. Paetow, Guide to the Study of Medieval History, 1917, 
''Vemgerichte," p. 292, ' ' Hermandadas, " p. 321; Lavisse and Rambaud, 
Histoire generale, II (1893), 466; Lynn Thorndike, History of Medieval 
Europe [1917], 534 et seq.; R. B. Merriman, Eise of the Spanish Empire, I 
(1918), 191-194; II, 99 et seq.; C. E. Chapman, History of Spain, 1918, 
pp. 155-156. 

28 Allied associations are discussed in Cutler, Lyneh-Law, 5-12 ; Ban- 
croft, Popular Trihu7ials, I, chaps. 1, 3. 

29 In California there was a definite point of contact betAveen Anglo- 
Saxon and Spanish precedents as the Santa Hermandad had been highly 
developed in certain parts of Mexico (see Bancroft, History of Mexico, 
1883-1888, III, 272-276). J. W. Dwinelle said that twenty years before 
the American occupation of California parties of reputable colonists were 
obliged to pursue outlaw soldiers and kill them like wild beasts. ''The 
Vigilance Committees in California are therefore a tradition of the Mexico- 
Calif ornian regime" {Colonial History of the City of San Franoiseo, ed. 3, 
1866, p. 87). In 1836 there was a deliberate execution by a popular tribunal, 
when the people of Los Angeles tried and executed a man and woman 
guilty of an atrocious murder. As no constitutional courts had inflicted 
punishments for homicide this act was approved by the community and 
condoned by the authorities {Fopular Tribunals, I, '62-66; J. S. Hittell, 
History of San Francisco, 1878, pp. 79-81; Vigilantes de Los Angeles, 1836, 
MS in the Bancroft Library; Vigilance Committee [of Los Angeles, 1836], 
MS in the Bancroft Library; Alta California, 1865, March 30 l^). 

18 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

In California they encountered conditions and emergencies that 
were radically different from those that had appeared elsewhere, 
and that taxed to the utmost all their capacity for self-control. 
None the less the development of California was an integral part 
of pioneer history, and the successes and the failures that 
attended the settlement and upbuilding of the state have a per- 
manent value far transcending their sectional interest. 

One of the most notable episodes in the history of California 
was the organization of the Committee of Vigilance of San Fran- 
cisco, an organization which is invested with abiding significance 
when it is regarded as a demonstration of national life and 
thought, rather than as a singular episode in an isolated com- 
munity. But to make clear this significance it is not enough 
to relate the Committee vaguely to general tendencies in Ameri- 
can society. It is imperative to perceive, as well, the special 
problems of California, and the exigencies which distinguished 
the entire interval that had elapsed since the date of the 
American occupation. To be explicit, we cannot understand the 
Committee of Vigilance of 1851 until we understand the failure 
of the courts to punish crime, and the consequent survival of 
the resort to popular tribunals. Nor can we discern the initial 
need of such popular tribunals and their recognized place in the 
life of 1848 and 1849 until we realize the extraordinary problems 
that developed when a hundred thousand gold seekers swarmed 
into a mining region that was destitute of any form of civil gov- 
ernment. For an explanation of this strange lack of the ordinary 
bulwarks of American society, we must look still deeper into the 
unusual status of California while it was held as a military 
possession of the United States during the war with Mexico, and 
at the changes that followed the conclusion of hostilities. Finally, 
in order to comprehend all the obvious and the subtle influences 
that called the committee into being, we must be able to appre- 
ciate how these years of uncontrolled, tumultuous, and intensely 

Introductian 19 

practical life, developed in the men of California an enormous 
self-reliance, and so accustomed them to improvise political and 
judicial organization that they tended to idealize the sovereign 
attributes of the "people assembled in their primary capacity" 
at the expense of legitimate, representative government. 

Here is a group of problems which must be formulated, first 
of all, in the exact and simple terms of local history. Some of 
them receive adequate consideration in the standard works on 
California, but others of vital importance have been strangely 
neglected, or have been overlaid and confused with a mass of 
distracting detail. As a result, the studies already in print do 
not give a broad and well balanced picture of community life in 
California during the gold rush. It has, therefore, proved 
impossible to introduce the history of the Committee of Vigilance 
by any brief summary of familiar material, and it has been 
necessary to devote several chapters to a consideration of certain 
phases of California history that directed public action and 
molded private thought during the period prior to 1851. 


1848 TO 1851 



The Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco was organized 
on the ninth of June, 1851. California had been a recognized 
commonwealth of the Federal Union exactly nine months; for 
nearly five years she had been under the flag of the United States ; 
and for three-quarters of a century before the American occu- 
pation she had been a part of the great colonial system which 
Spain had planted upon the Western Hemisphere. 

There had been only a brief clash of arms when the country 
passed from the control of one government to that of the other. 
California was nevertheless a field of conflict between two ideals 
of social order — the ideal of the Spanish-American colonists 
based on the civil law of Rome, and the ideal of their American 
successors based on the common law of England. Further, these 
distinct ideals, formulated by centuries of national life in the 
Old "World, had been constantly modified by the problems of 
life in the New, as men of different races pushed their frontiers 
northward from Mexico, and westward from the Atlantic sea- 
board, to meet on the plains of the Southwest, and on the shores 
of the Pacific Ocean. 

Until the close of Spanish rule in 1822, the military and 
ecclesiastical authorities had dominated California. Thenceforth 
the ecclesiastical influence declined, sinking to almost nothing 
after the secularization decree of 1833. At the same time the 
civil organization increased in importance until it vied with the 
military, and the Mexican system cannot be ignored in any 
study of the early American period, since it was perpetuated 

24 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

as the vehicle of local administration from the date of the occu- 
pation until the full establishment of state government in 1850. 
It has been summarized as follows by one of the American 
military-civil governors -} 

It consists, first, of a governor, appointed by the supreme government: 
in default of such appointment, the office is temporarily vested in the com- 
manding military officer of the department. . . . Second, a secretary. . . . Third, 
a territorial or departmental legislature, with limited powers to pass laws 
of a local character. Fourth, a superior court (tribunal superior) of the 
Territory, consisting of four judges and a fiscal. Fifth, a prefect and sub- 
prefects for each district, who are charged with the preservation of public 
order and the execution of the laws: their duties correspond, in a great 
measure, with those of district marshals and sheriffs. Sixth, a judge of 
first instance for each district: this office is, by a custom not inconsistent 
with the laws, vested in the first alcalde of the district. Seventh, alcaldes, 
who have concurrent jurisdiction among themselves in the same district, but 
are subordinate to the higher judicial tribunals. Eighth, local justices of 
the peace. Ninth, ayuntamientos, or town councils. The powers and func- 
tions of all these officers are fully defined in the laws of this country, and 
are almost identical with those of the corresponding officers in the Atlantic 
and western States. 

California, one would conclude, was provided with an 
adequate and nicely balanced government; and so she was, by 
statute. But it is necessary to accept such an obvious con- 
clusion with extreme caution, as the Mexican officials had 
a genius for writing out organizations on paper, and for 
nullifying their statutes in actual practice. For this reason the 
''laws" and the ''usages" of a given community often exhibit 
notable discrepancies, and accounts of conditions based on a 
study of national regulations may differ greatly from other 
accounts based on the personal experiences of residents and 
visitors. In California the variations between law and custom 
offer an interesting field for careful comparison of documentary 
sources and of contemporary observations. Pending such a 

1 Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 778. 

The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 25 

thorough investigation one must speak with reservation of the 
exact condition at any particular time. 

The unit of civic life in the Spanish colonial system was the 
town or pueblo, and this was the form of organization established 
in California after the secularization of the missions.^ Municipal 
control was vested in the ayuntanvientos or town councils. The 
executive officers were the alcaldes, sometimes two in number, 
who exercised judicial and even legislative powers of great 
scope. The first alcalde of each district also acted as judge of 
first instance in considering cases of major importance. The 
statutes provided for higher tribunals to entertain appeals from 
these lower courts, but while superior judges may have been 
appointed in California, they seem never to have performed any 
important functions.^ In consequence the local officers exercised 
a greater authority than was actually bestowed upon them by 
legislative enactment. 

In the course of a general movement towards centralization 
under President Santa Anna, the Mexican Congress, in 1837, 
enacted laws which deprived small towns of their elected ayunta- 
mientos, and substituted for the alcaldes justices of the peace, 
appointed by the prefect of the district, and subordinate to the 
sub-prefect.* These justices exercised certain of the ''faculties 
and obligations" of the alcaldes and ayuntamientos, and their 
authority varied according to the size of the town. As none of 
the settlements in California had a population that entitled it 

2 See T. H. Hittell, History of California., 1885-1897, II, 181-214; H. H. 
Bancroft, History of California, 1884-1890, III, 301-362; F. W. Blackmar, 
Spanish Institutions of the Southwest, 1891, pp. 153-191. General reference 
on Mexican organization may also be made to I. B. Richman, California 
binder Spain and Mexico, 1911. It is unnecessary to consider here the exact 
number of legally constituted pueblos, although the question was very im- 
portant in the settlement of land titles after the American occupation. 

3 Bancroft, California, IV, 531; Frederic Hall, History of San Jose, 
1871, p. 169; W. H. Davis, Sixty Years in California, 1889, "p. 105. 

4 See the Digest of the laws of 1837, by H. W. Halleck, in J. Ross 
Browne, Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the 
Formation of a State Constitution, 1850, Appendix, pp. xxxi-xxxiv. 

26 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

to an elective council, Governor Alvarado, in November, 1839, 
issued an order dissolving the ayuniamientos and displacing the 
alcaldes, with the probable exception of the officials of the capital 
town of Monterey.^ 

Radical changes in the Mexican system were again made in 
1843 when Santa Ana was at the height of his power.^ In 
California the offices of prefects and sub-prefects were abol- 
ished, and in Januarj^, 1844, Governor Micheltorena reinstated 
ayuntamientas and alcaldes in several of the larger towns.'^ 
Bancroft said that this change left little trace in the archives 
of the period, for in the summer of 1845, after the overthrow 
of both Micheltorena and Santa Anna, the legislative assembly 
of California reorganized the administration on the old basis of 
the laws of 1837.^ Alta California was divided into the districts 
of Los Angeles and Monterey, and these were again subdivided 
into partidos. The partido of Monterey was given a prefect, the 
others had sub-prefects. The town of Monterey, which had been 
the former capital, was also allowed an ayuntamiento and alcaldes, 
and so was Los Angeles, to which the seat of government had 
been removed early in 1845.^ Elsewhere the justices of the peace 
were reestablished, as prescribed in the laws of 1837, although 
there was a general tendency to persist in the use of the term 
alcalde, instead of juez de paz. Contemporary travelers com- 
monly followed that custom, and old residents found it difficult 

5 Bancroft, California, III, 586. Alvarado said in 18-40: ''There is no 
Ayuntamiento whatever in the Department, for there being no competent 
number of inhabitants in any of the towns as provided by the Constitution, 
those then existing had to be dissolved; and only in the Capital there ought 
to be one of such bodies" (Dwinelle, Colonial History of the City of San 
Francisco, Addenda L., p. 70). The varying local regulations are illustrated 
in Bernard Moses, Estahlishment of Municipal Government in San Francisco, 
1889, pp. 12-26. 

6 Bancroft, History of Mexico, V, 226-287. 

7 Bancroft, California, IV, 358-359. 

8 Ibid., 533. 
^Ihid., 519. 

The Spamsh Inheritaofice and the American Conquest 27 

to distinguish between the two classes of magistrates when called 
to testify in the American courts. ^^ 

Thus it happened that Spain's judicial legacy to California 
is for the popular mind embodied in the symbolic figure of the 
alcalde — the presiding officer of the town council, the dignified, 
paternal autocrat ; so prominent in local affairs, and so impressed 
upon history and fiction, that the term, ''alcalde system" has 
frequently been applied to the whole elaborate and centralized 
organization in which the alcalde's legitimate position was act- 
ually that of a minor unit.^^ 

During the last decade of Mexican rule a changing order 
affected many of the characteristic features of the earlier epoch. 
The neglected presidios and the rifled missions still formed a 
chain of little settlements from San Diego to Sonoma, but many 
of the more important residents lived in patriarchal fashion on 
great ranchos which had been granted from time to time to 
private individuals. Despite hampering restrictions, hundreds 
of foreigners had made themselves at home in California, and 
some had even acquired positions of distinction through marriage 
with influential families. Life was pastoral and indolent, little 
disturbed by commercial aspirations, but enlivened by constant 
political intrigue. The keener minds, both native and foreign, 

10 See testimony in the case of the United States vs. Jose Y. Limantour, 
Transcript, 1857-1858, I, Case No. 424, pp. 140, 145, 153, 155, 163; IV, 
Exhibit O, pp. 9, 13-17. The changes in system are outlined, II, 753-754. 
Many extracts from this evidence are reprinted in Dwindle, San Francisco, 
and a list of Mexican officials of San Francisco is given in Addenda 
LXXVII, p. 111. See also B. S. Brooks, ''Alcalde Grants in the City of 
San Francisco," The Pioneer, I, II (1854). 

11 See R. A. Wilson, ''The Alcalde System of California," First Califor- 
nia Reports, 559 et seq. (in ed. 1, 1852, and annotated ed., 1906) ; C. H. 
Shinn, Mining Camps, 1885, especially chap. 8; Willoughby Rodman, His- 
tory of the Bench and Bar of Southern California, 1909, pp. 28-36; J. R. 
Robertson, From Alcalde to Mayor, 1908, a MS doctoral dissertation in the 
University of California Library. Some court decisions ruled that the 
status of the alcaldes as defined in the laws of 1843 held over to the Ameri- 
can regime, see "Mena vs. Le Roy," First California Beports, 220; "Cohas 
vs. Raisin, ' ' Third California Beparts, 449 ; ' ' Hart vs. Burnett, ' ' Fifteenth 
California Beports, 530. 

28 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

were aware of impending change, for statesmen more energetic 
than those of Mexico were bestirring themselves to gain control 
of the Pacific Coast; and while the Calif ornians were absorbed 
in their local problems and discords the toils of international 
ambition and diplomacy were drawing closer about them. 

The various episodes that immediately preceded the change 
in government are some of the best known incidents in local 
history. A few words will recall the services of Thomas 0. 
Larkin as United States consul at Monterey; the exploring 
expeditions of Captain John C. Fremont, of the United States 
Topographical Engineers; the protests made by the Mexican 
authorities when his large party lingered in California during 
the spring of 1846; the arrival, in May, of Lieutenant A. H. 
Gillespie, with secret orders from Washington for Larkin and 
Fremont; and the belligerent attitude immediately assumed by 
the latter. In June the American settlers at Sonoma, abetted 
by Fremont, attempted the establishment of an independent gov- 
ernment, and while their Bear Flag was still flying. Commodore 
John D. Sloat appeared upon the Coast, announced the out- 
break of hostilities between the United States and Mexico, and, 
on the seventh of July raised the Stars and Stripes above the 
little port of Monterey.^^ 

The months that followed were filled with interesting events, 
and while most of them may pass unnoticed in these pages, a 
few require mention because they produced conditions that 
permanently affected the institutions of California. The expan- 
sion of the United States by the military occupation of Mexican 
territory created problems for which the officers in command 
could not be prepared by specific instructions issued long prior 
to the event. The development of a policy in regard to the 

12 General reference on this period may be made to the histories of Ban- 
croft, Hittell, and Eoyce; G. L. Rives, The United States and Mexico, 1821- 
1848, 1913, II; J. H. Smith, The War with Mexico, 1919, especially chaps. 
14, 16, 17, with their notes. 

The Spanish Inherit^ince and the American Conquest 29 

administration of the acquired country was a series of experi- 
ments, in which the burden of responsibility was laid upon the 
local executives. The orders under which Sloat took possession 
of Monterey were dated June 24, August 5, and October 17, 
1845, and they vaguely directed him to preserve friendly rela- 
tions with the people of California in case the declaration of 
war gave him an opportunity to seize the ports of the Pacific 
Coast. Letters which were dispatched after the outbreak of 
hostilities ordered him to encourage the people to ''neutrality, 
self-government and friendship." They anticipated that it 
might be necessary for him to establish some form of civil 
government, but details of administration were left to his dis- 

It is a recognized principle of international law that during 
the military occupation of conquered territory the native munici- 
pal laws shall continue in force except as the new commander 
may make specific changes.^* In accordance with the spirit of 
this regulation Commodore Sloat issued a proclamation on the 
day he occupied Monterey in which he promised that peaceable 
inhabitants should enjoy their native rights and privileges, as 
well as greater liberties assured to those who lived under the 
flag of the United States.^^ At the same time he asked the 
judges, alcaldes, and other civil officers to retain their positions 

13 For orders of this period see Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 499, Doe. 19, pp. 
75, 79-84; Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 2 Sess., Appendix, pp. 44-47; J. C. Fre- 
mont, Memoirs, 1887, I, 537; Richman, Calif ornia under Spain and Mexico, 
pp. 528-529. 

14 For discussion of the status of California at this time see R. D. Hunt, 
''Legal Status of California, 1846-49," American Academy of Political and 
Social Science, Annals, XII (1898), 387-408; C. E. Magoon, Reports on 
the Law of Civil Government in Territory Subject to Military Occupation 
by the Military Forces of the United States, 1902, Index under "Califor- 
nia"; D. Y. Thomas, History of Military Government in Neivly Acquired 
Territory of the Vnited States, 1904, pp. 159-275; W. E. Birkhimer, Mili- 
tary Government and Martial Law, ed. 3, 1914, pp. 53-137. 

15 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 493, Doc. 1, pp. 644-645. Reprinted in Soule, 
Gihon and Nisbet, A7i)ials of San Francisco, 1855, pp. 98-100. 

30 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

until the government should be more definitely organized, but 
only a few of the native incumbents consented to continue in 

Monterey, the first port occupied, was entitled to an ayunta- 
miento and alcaldes,^*^ and elsewhere common parlance clung to 
the term ' 'alcalde." Therefore it is not surprising that the 
Americans, who were unfamiliar with the Mexican laws, imme- 
diately assumed that alcaldes were the constitutional magistrates 
in all the settlements that had so suddenly been transferred 
from the authority of one nation to that of another. Alcaldes, 
therefore, were appointed to fill the more important vacancies,^^ 
and the safety of the little army of occupation required that in 
many places Americans should replace Californians of doubtful 
adherence to the new regime. Perhaps the most conspicuous 
of these magistrates was the Reverend Walter Colton, alcalde 
of Montere}', for his interesting diary is one of the most familiar 
sources of information on the events of the period.^^ 

Commodore Sloat left California three weeks after his 
momentous action of July 7. He was succeeded in command 
by Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who acted as executive for 
about six months — a brief administration which was disturbed 
by various uprisings of native malcontents. In the suppression 
of these outbreaks the Commodore was greatly assisted by 
Fremont and Gillespie, and the California Battalion of Mounted 
Riflemen, which they had organized from members of Fremont's 

16 An election for the ayuntamiento had been held in Monterey, Dec. 10, 
1845 (Bancroft, California, IV, 655 note). 

17 Bancroft, California, V, 637 note, 648 note. Commodore Sloat, how- 
ever, appointed a justice of the peace at San Jose, and recommended the 
appointment of two more to try minor cases in San Francisco {Cong. Docs., 
Ser. No. 493, Doc. 1, pp. 641, 667). Henry D. Fitch was spoken of as 
justice of the peace in San Diego, April 16, 1847 (Archives of California, 
''Unbound Docs., 1846-1850," p. 118), and Robert Cliff as justice in the 
same place on Oct. 5, 1847 (ibid., 121). 

18 Walter Colton, Three Years in California, 1850. Colton had been 
chaplain of the frigate Congress. 

The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 31 

exploring expedition and from adherents of the Bear Flag 

Stockton undoubtedly considered himself authorized to install 
an adequate form of civil government. He called for popular 
elections to fill the positions vacated by the old magistrates, and 
directed that the new officers should administer the law accord- 
ing to former usages until the departments of state could be 
rearranged. -° He publicly announced the probability of speedy 
territorial organization, and on his own initiative drew up a 
brief constitution which formally declared California to be a 
territory of the United States, provided for a governor, a secre- 
tary, and a legislative council, and continued the existing 
municipal institutions. This was forwarded to Washington, 
accompanied by the statement that he expected soon to resume 
his duty at sea, and would appoint Fremont governor, and 
Gillespie secretary.^^ 

Long before this communication reached the East, other plans 
had been matured for California. Soon after the outbreak of 
the war Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearnj^ had been sent 
westward upon a dual mission. He was ordered first to occupy 
New Mexico and to establish civil government there, and then 
to proceed overland to cooperate with the naval forces on the 
Pacific Coast, to assume command of all troops mobilized there, 
and to establish civil government as soon as possible. It was 
admitted that in both localities the work of administration might 
be difficult and unpleasant, and he was instructed to rely on his 
own judgment when necessary.-^ 

151 See Bancroft, California, V, chaps. 12-15. 

20 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 493, Doc. 1, pp. 669-670. Stockton called for 
the local election at San Jose in a letter dated August 24, 1846, that is still 
preserved in the office of the clerk of that city. 

21 Eeports of Sept. 18 and 19, 1846, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 521, Doc. 70, 
pp. 38-40, 45-46. For Stockton 's plan of organization see Gang. Docs., 
Ser. No. 493, Doc. 1, pp. 669, 671-672, 675; Bancroft, California, V, 284- 

22 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 236-240; Bancroft, California, 
V, 334-336. 

32 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

To reinforce the troops that marched overland, the First 
Regiment of New York Volunteers was dispatched via Cape 
Horn, under the command of Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson. 
It was composed of young men who enlisted for the duration 
of the war, with the understanding that they should be mus- 
tered out in California. The fact that many remained there 
as permanent settlers made the expedition famous in local annals 
under the familiar title of Stevenson's Regiment.^^ 

Another body of volunteers was raised in Missouri, where 
Kearny recruited a battalion from a party of Mormons. These 
men were already on their way to California, where they expected 
to join a number of their fellow believers who had sailed from 
New York with the intention of procuring grants of land from 
the Mexican authorities. The seafarers arrived in San Fran- 
cisco only to find that the American flag had preceded them. 
Although the personal force of their leader, Samuel Brannan, 
held them together for a while, they soon separated, and the ma- 
jority gravitated liaturally towards Salt Lake.^* Brannan stayed 
in San Francisco, became a conspicuous figure in local history, 
and was the first president of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851. 

General Kearny experienced little difficulty in fulfilling the 
first portion of his instructions, for the occupation of New 
Mexico was quickly accomplished. The conqueror immediately 
announced the annexation of the territory to the United States, 
promulgated an elaborate organic law, and appointed a full 
staff of civil executives.^^ When the report of the proclamation 

23 See infra, p. 39. 

24 See Daniel Tyler, Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the 
Mexican War, 1881; Bancroft, California, V, pp. 469-498, 544-554; Sacra- 
mento Union, 1866, Sept. 11 %_4; James O'Meara, *'A Chapter of California 
History," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, XIV (1889), 625-630; B. H. Eoberts, 
The Mormon Battalion, 1919. 

25 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 499, Doc. 19, pp. 20, 26-73. See also E. E. 
Twitchell, History of the Military Occupation of Neiu Mexico, 1909, pp. 
8-^94, 147-199; J. T. Hughes, Doniphan's Expeditioii, reprint by W. E. 
Connelley, 1907, pp. 201-202, 238-242; Thomas, Military Government, 101; 
149; Birkhimer, Military Government and Martial Law, 62-63, 137. 

The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 33 

of annexation was received in Washington, Kearny was promptly 
informed that he should not repeat such a declaration in Califor- 
nia, since incorporation of the acquired territory would depend 
upon governmental action. ^^ 

It may be inferred that President Polk was ready to allow 
much freedom to the commandants of New Mexico and of Cali- 
fornia, for in his Message of December 8, 1846, he stated with 
approval that the former civil government had been superseded 
in the conquered provinces, and that in some of them the military 
and naval commanders had established temporary governments, 
which conformed as far as practicable to the free institutions 
of the United States.-^ But Congress proved jealously alert to 
any infringement of the legislative prerogative, and requested 
full information as to the affairs of the occupied territory.^^ 
The President responded by transmitting the relevant documents, 
including the text of the laws for New Mexico, which had come 
to his attention after the delivery of his previous Message. He 
also stated that while he should approve of necessary regulations 
for the safety of the army of occupation, he should not approve 
such portions of the code as purported to establish a permanent 
territorial government, or confer political rights which could be 
enjoyed only by citizens.^^ 

To Kearny himself a communication was sent under date 
of January 11, 1847, designed to guide him and his successor 
in the administration of California. After reference had been 
made to the obvious faults of the code for New Mexico, he was 
informed that the law of nations allowed a conquering power to 
establish a civil government for the purpose of preserving order, 

26 Orders of Nov. 3, 1846, Cong. Doc^., Ser. No. 499, Doe. 19, p. 15. 

27 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 493, Doc. 1, pp. 22-23. See also commendation 
of the Secretary of the Navy, ihid., 379.' 

28 Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 2 Sess., p. 12 ct seq. ; Appendix, p. 43 et seq. 

29 Message, Dec. 22, 1846, J. D. Eichardson, compiler, Messages and 
Papers of the Presidents, 1899, IV, 506-507. 

34 Vigilance Commdttee of 1851 

and that he was expected to exercise such an authority in a 
firm and judicious manner. But it was distinctly stated that 
the Federal Constitution had not been extended over the con- 
quered people, and that the temporary regulations of the military 
regime could not be continued beyond the duration of a state 
of war without the authority of a treaty or a definite act of 
Congress.^" When this letter was written General Kearny was 
already in California, and was confronted with difficulties which 
the Department of War had never foreseen. Learning of the 
rapidity and ease with which the ports had been occupied, he 
took scarcely more than a hundred men upon the long and 
difficult march from Santa Fe.^^ Early in December the 
exhausted and hungry company reached the vicinity of San 
Diego, to find the Californians in arms against the Americans, 
and to enga-ge the insurgents in a disastrous encounter at San 
Pasqual.^^ Reinforcements sent by Stockton relieved a desperate 
situation, and the overland expedition arrived in time to 
participate in the final days of the insurrection. Its general, 
however, waited to assume command of the combined forces until 
more of his own troops should appear. 

After peace with the belligerents was obtained by the Treaty 
of Cahuenga, negotiated by Fremont on January 13, 1847, 
Kearny felt that the time had arrived to take his place as military 
and civil executive. But Stockton was unwilling to relinquish 
his position and was determined to carry out his plan of install- 
ing Fremont as governor. He pursued this course in spite of 
protests; issued the civil commissions he thought necessary; 
appointed a legislative council to meet in March, invested the 

30 Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 244-247. 

31 Bancroft, California, V, 336-339. 

32 Bancroft, California, V, 339-356; V. M. Porter, ''General Stephen W. 
Kearny and the Conquest of California, ' ' Historical Society of Southern 
California, Annual PuMioations, VIII (1911), 95-127. 

The Spanish Inheritance amd the American Conquest 35 

new government with control on January 19, and departed for 
San Diego. ^^ 

Kearny did not endeavor to enforce his authority by arms, 
but proceeded quietly to the north. There he found a company 
of artillery, lately arrived from the East, and also Colonel 
Kichard B. Mason, who had been sent to the Coast to relieve 
him.3* Commodore W. B. Shubrick, Stockton's successor, was at 
Monterey, and was quick to discountenance the claims made 
by Stockton and Fremont. Between the commanders of the land 
and naval forces was now established that cordial cooperation 
desired by the national authorities. On March 1, 1847, they 
made public a joint circular which announced Kearny's appoint- 
ment as governor and fixed the capital at Monterey. At the same 
time Kearny issued a proclamation of a conciliatory character,^^ 
but in accordance with the instructions of November 3, received 
by the hands of Mason,^^ he forbore to declare formal annexation, 
as he had done in New Mexico. During the controversy with 
Stockton he had ordered the latter to cease all further proceed- 
ings relating to the formation of a civil government,^^ and he 
now ignored Stockton's entire scheme. He confined himself to 
holding out the hope of speedy territorial organization by action 
of the United States government, and to announcing that until 
changes could be accomplished by competent authority the exist- 
ing laws would be continued in so far as they harmonized with 
the Federal Constitution. The principle thus stated was accepted 

33 See Bancroft, California, V, 411-468; Proceedings of the General 
Court Martial in the Case of Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, 1847 (Cong. Docs., 
Ser. No. 507, Doc. 33); John Bigelow, Memoir of Fremont, 1856, p. 222 
et seq.; F. S. Dellenbaugh, Fremont and '49, 1914, pp. 355-380. 

34 Bancroft, California, V, 436, 518. 

35 Circular and proclamation in Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, 
pp. 288-289. The latter was made public March 4 (iUd., 284). 

36 See supra, p. 33. Dates of the reception of Kearny's orders are given 
in Court Martial of Fremont, 48-55. The orders were reaffirmed June 11, 
1847 (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 521, Doc. 70, p. 29). 

37 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 557, Doc. 18, pp. 267, 268. 

36 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

as conforming with the orders of January 11, which shortly 
arrived.^^ It became from that time the basis of administration 
in California, but the anticipated civil organization proved 
illusive, and no competent authority effected changes in the 
organic law of the country until the people themselves adopted 
the state constitution of 1849. 

While Kearny was thus employed in the north, Fremont was 
still acting as governor in Los Angeles, but after many stormy 
days he was obliged to yield to the general's superior authority, 
and to return to Washington, where he was tried and convicted 
of insubordination. The court martial recommended his dis- 
missal from the army, and although the President remitted the 
sentence, Fremont resigned and continued his career in the West 
as a private citizen. 

The discord created by the disputes between the American 
officers reacted most unfortunately on conditions in California. 
Not only was the work of organization seriously delayed, but 
the conflict of authority produced a question as to the validity 
of the obligations assumed by Stockton and Fremont in raising 
forces and requisitioning supplies. They had promised to pay 
the California Battalion more than the rates allowed by Con- 
gress, and the members of that company refused to be mustered 
into the volunteer service. Their status therefore remained 
irregular, and their claims, as also those of civilians who had 
furnished food and horses, were a matter for tedious and unsatis- 
factory Congressional action.^^ A most natural resentment was 
thus created against the authorities and serious antagonism 
engendered among the defrauded Californians, while many 
Americans felt that Stockton and Fremont had tried to give 
them a satisfactory government, but that the succeeding military 
commandants were indifferent to their needs. 

38 See supra, p. 34. The orders were received April 23 {Cong. Does., Ser. 
No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 286). 

39 Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 287, 315: Bancroft, California, 
V, 462-468. 

The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 37 

Frequent complaints of this sort were registered in the first 
newspaper that appeared in San Francisco, the California Star, 
published by Samuel Brannan. The initial issue/^ dated Janu- 
ary 9, 1847, expressed the hope that an immediate acceptance 
of Stockton's scheme for a temporary government might end the 
confusion that existed as to the laws in force in California. On 
February 6 the Star gave the names of the governor, the secre- 
tary, and the members of the legislative council, as appointed 
by Stockton. On the thirteenth it printed a long editorial, 
rejoicing over the anticipated meeting of the council, and urging 
it to call a convention which should draw up a territorial consti- 
tution and so put a stop to the irregularities of the alcaldes, 
who were ''all over the country, assuming the power of legisla- 
tures, issuing and promulgating their handos and laws and orders 
and oppressing the people." Subsequent issues told of the 
selection of delegates to the proposed legislative council from 
San Francisco,*^ Sonoma,*- and Santa Clara.*^ Wlien reports 
of these proceedings were sent to Kearny, he replied that no such 
council would then be convened.** This fact was published in 
the Star, with the announcement that a call for a legislative 
assembly might be made within a short time.*' In the issue of 
March 13, 1847, there was an article setting forth the imperative 
need of land laws. On March 27 the editor wrote: "We have 
not been able to discover any traces of written law particularly 

40 The Monterey Califoniian, started August 15, 1846, by Walter Colton 
and Doctor Kobert Semple, Avas friendly to the military authorities. The 
California Star was started as an organ of protest against their arbitrary 
methods. See E. C. Kemble, ^'History of California Newspapers," Sacra- 
mento Union, 1858, Dec. 25 2/g. An ''Extra in Advance of the California 
Star" had been printed about the first of November, 1846 (Hittell, San 
Francisco, 109). 

41 California Star, 1847, March 6 Yi- 

42 California Star, 1847, March 6 %, %. 

43 California Star, 1847, March 6 %. 

44 Letters, March 3, 4, 1847, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 290. 
Kearny's official correspondence is given, ibid., 283-313. 

45 California Star, 1847, March 20 %. 

38 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

applicable to this territory except the Bandos of the Alcaldes," 
and remarked that, in the absence of formal statutes, ''some 
contend that there are really no laws in force here, but the divine 
law, and the law of nature." 

There was other evidence of hostility to the administration. 
Edwin Bryant, the alcalde of San Francisco, resigned in May, 
and two parties were then formed, which respectively petitioned 
the governor for the appointment of George Hyde and John 
Townsend.*^ Hyde was given the position, and a meeting for 
protest was summoned by the following handbill:*^ 

The People's Voice Stifled by Intrigue 

People of San Francisco, rally for your rights!!! A majority of your 
number have petitioned the Govr of this Territory to appoint John To^vn- 
send Esq. to succeed Edwin Bryant Esq., as Alcalde of this district. Intrigue 
has defeated this voice of the people — George Hyde is appointed ! ! ! Will 
you submit to this? The unrevoked Proclamation of Govr Stockton gives 
you the privilege of electing Alcaldes for yourselves. — The laws of Cali- 
fornia guarantee the same Right. 

Assemble at Brown's Hotel at seven o'clock this evening, and assert your 

Many of the People. 
San Franco, May 30th, 1847. 

Major James A. Hardie, who attended the meeting in his 
official capacity, as commander of the northern military district, 
put a stop to proceedings by announcing that any attempt to 
elect an alcalde in the place of the governor's appointee would 
be repressed by military authority.*^ This incident is scarcely 
noted, even by Bancroft, but it derives significance from the 
appeal to Stockton's ''unrevoked proclamation," and from the 
comment upon it made by William A. Leidesdorff, who wrote 

^^ Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 114-115. 
^T Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 110. 

48 Hardie to Mason, May 30, 1847, Archives, "Unbound Docs.," 109- 
110. Eeply, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 325. 

The Spanish Inheritance and the American Conquest 39 

that the party opposed to Hyde was an "open advocate of Cali- 
fornia being an independent government and not a territory of 
the United States."*^ 

Fortunately at this time Kearny's position had been greatly 
strengthened by the arrival of Stevenson's Regiment, which 
landed early in March. This put at his command a force 
sufficient to quell any dangerous tendency towards insubordina- 
tion. The volunteers were assigned to garrison duty, chiefly in 
the recently disaffected southern area, where they rendered excel- 
lent service. The roster of the regiment contains the names of 
many men who became leading citizens of the state, and of others 
who achieved unenviable notoriety as New York rowdies, quickly 
acclimated to the welcome license of conditions in California, and 
potent for evil in city and mining camp.^° 

49 Leidesdorff to Mason, May 30, 1847, Arohives, ''Unbound Docs.," 68. 

50 See F. D. Clark, The First Eegime7it of New YorTc Volunteers, 1882; 
Bancroft, California, V, chap. 19 ; Z. S. Eldredge, Beginnings of San Fran- 
cisco, 1912, II, 552-556. It was sometimes called the Seventh Regiment. 


Kearny acted as governor for three months only. On May 31, 
1847, he was succeeded by Colonel Richard B. Mason, who filled 
the position for nearly two years. 

California was fully pacified when Mason assumed his office, 
but past conflicts had left a heritage of bitterness between the 
Americans and the Californians, and the discord in the ranks 
of the victors had prevented any constructive work for the 
improvement of local conditions. 

The little towns, both north and south, were still under the 
rule of their alcaldes, some of whom had been elected according 
to Stockton's instructions, while some had been appointed by 
Kearny. One can realize from the hasty sketch of early affairs 
given in the foregoing chapter that the American alcaldes 
inherited not only the traditional institutions of the Spanish 
system but also the confusion resulting from the years of turmoil 
in Mexico and California, during which acts had been passed 
and repealed and renewed until their real meaning was lost 
in a maze of contradictions. 

The laws in force at the time of the seizure were held to be 
those of 1837, but they were practically inaccessible in printed 
form. One pioneer explained that under the Mexican system 
laws were transmitted in writing to the alcaldes, and promul- 
gated to the people by word of mouth. ^ Such a method would 
account for the almost total lack of written statutes. Edwin 
Bryant, alcalde of San Franeisco in February, 1847, could find 

1 R. F. Peckham, San Jose Pioneer, 1877, July 7 (Scrapbook in the Ban- 
croft Library, Eventful Life, p. 19). 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 41 

no law books except a digest of the Laws of the Indies, published 
in Spain a century earlier, and a small pamphlet that defined 
the powers of judicial officers of the Mexican republic.^ 

It was a common impression that the former magistrates had 
administered the laws ''in accordance with the principles of 
natural right and justice, "^ and in one of his earliest despatches 
Colonel Mason wrote to the alcalde of Sonoma :* 

Having been only two days in office as governor, I am not at this time 
prepared to say what are the extent of your powers and jurisdiction as 
alcalde; you must, for the time being, be governed by the customs and 
laws of the country as far as you can ascertain them, and by your own 
good sense and sound discretion. 

Such, indeed, had been the only guides for the conduct of 
the American alcaldes during the whole of their official existence, 
and some of them had developed very liberal conceptions of their 
responsibilities. The best known interpretation of the alcalde's 
office may be found in the diary of Alcalde Colton, of Monterey. 
Its pages give a vivid impression of the authority assumed by 
that paternal magistrate. He wrote on different occasions :' 

My jurisdiction extends over an immense extent of territory, and over 
a most heterogeneous population. ... All have come here with the expecta- 
tion of finding but little work and less law. Through this discj)rdant mass 
I am to maintain order, punish crime, and redress injuries. 

It devolves upon me duties similar to those of mayor of one of our cities, 
without any of those judicial aids which he enjoys. It involves every breach 
of the peace, every case of crime, every business obligation, and every dis- 
puted land-title within a space of three hundred miles. From every other 

2 See Browne, DehaUs, Appendix, p. xxv; Edwin Bryant, Whai I Saw 
in California, 1848, p. 436; T. B. King, California 1S50, p. 3. By July, 
1848, Colton was familiar with more satisfactory Mexican codes {Ihiee 
Years 249). 

sEdwin Brvant, What I Saw in Calif ornia, 436; Charles Wilkes, Narra- 
tive of the V liked States Exploring Expedition, 1844, V, 222. 

4 Letter, June 2, 1847, Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 317. A 
letter dated May 27 ha<l asked a definition of the alcalde's duties {Arcliives, 
''Unbound Docs.," 110-111). 

5 Colton, Three Years, 19, 55. 

42 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

alcalde's court in this jurisdiction there is an appeal to this, and none from 
this to any higher tribunal. Such an absolute disposal of questions affecting 
property and personal liberty, never ought to be confided to one man. There 
is not a judge on any bench in England or the United States, whose power 
is so absolute as that of the alcalde of Monterey. 

Bancroft declared that these oft quoted paragraphs in reality 
described the duties of a Mexican prefect, but those officers were 
not installed during the first years of the American occupation. 
In the absence of higher authorities, the first alcalde of each 
district was recognized as ex-officio judge of first instance, with 
jurisdiction in criminal cases, and other alcaldes of the district 
were subordinate to him.^ Colton, however, made no distinction 
between the functions of the first alcalde of a district, and those 
of an ordinary municipal magistrate, and since he is often cited 
as an authority on the position of California alcaldes this char- 
acterization has tended to exaggerate the popular conception of 
their constitutional status. 

As a matter of fact, Mr. Colton was never very exactly 
informed as to the Mexican precedents. In such an important 
matter as land laws he stated that the former authorities had 
been governed solely by 

''The simple plan. 
That they shall take who have the power, 
And they shall keep who can."^ 
It is not surprising that his own disposition of public land was 
irregular, and his records carelessly preserved! 

Colonel Mason proved himself well fitted to cope with the 
difficult situation in which he was placed. His choice of 

6 See Bancroft, California, VI, 258 note 8; Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, 
Doc. 17, pp. 675, 762. Colton 's exaggerated conception of an alcalde's 
position is noted in O. K. McMurray, * ' Beginnings of Community Property 
System in California," California Law Review, III (1915), 360-361. 

7 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 170. Colton 's methods were 
criticized (ibid., 761). In spite of this, his work as a whole was so valu- 
able that he was not recalled to naval duty (Shubrick to Mason, Sept. 15, 
1847, Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 127). 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 43 

assistants was particularly fortunate. Lieutenant William T. 
Sherman, the assistant adjutant general, was an efficient aid in 
military affairs, and Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck, the secretary 
of state, had an excellent understanding of civil and international 
law.* The work of administration was greatly hampered by the 
lack of legal treatises, both Mexican and American. Mason and 
Halleck had a few American works, but as late as April, 1849, 
the senior military officer on the Coast was unable to procure 
in California a copy of the laws of the United States.^ The little 
staff at headquarters made sincere efforts to become familiar with 
the Mexican statutes, and it was Mason's purpose to prepare an 
English digest as a guide for the officials in California. This was 
completed in the course of a 3^ear, but before it could be printed, 
the conclusion of the war led the governor to believe that its 
publication would be unnecessary. 

The best source of information on the events of the period 
is the collection of official letters accompanying President Tay- 
lor's Message on Calif ornia and New Mexico, January 21, 1850.^° 
This is supplemented by a manuscript volume in the Bancroft 
Library which contains copies or summaries of many letters from 
citizens and alcaldes, received by the governors from 1846 to 
1850.^^ This correspondence shows that Colonel Mason was a 
strict disciplinarian in his interpretation of the subordination 
of municipal executives to military authority. Instead of allow- 
ing the freedom of election sanctioned by Stockton, he insisted 

8 A useful study of this period has been made by Flora A. Wright, in 
a master's thesis, Eiohard Barnes Mason, 1919, MS in the University of 
California Library. See also S. H. Willey, ' ' Kecollections of General Hal- 
leck," Overland Monthly, IX (1872), 9-17; W. T. Sherman, Memoirs, 
1875, I. 

9 See Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 263-264, 453, 722. It was 
impossible to procure some needed legal books except from visiting ships 
of war (H. W. Halleck, International Laiv, 1861, Preface.) 

10 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17. A slightly different arrangement 
is given in Ser. No. 557, Doc. 18. 

11 Cited here as Archives, ''Unbound Docs. '^ 

44 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

that it was the governor's prerogative to appoint the alcaldes, 
or to issue special permission for their election. He also kept 
a sharp watch over their actions, and demanded reports on mat- 
ters of importance. They often appealed to him for advice and 
direction, and in so far as he was able he responded with prece- 
dents drawn from Mexican usage, and gave instructions to cover 
individual cases. Other appeals were made by contestants 
dissatisfied with the decisions of alcaldes. These were some- 
times entertained, although more often they were dismissed on 
the ground that there was no higher tribunal to which an appeal 
might be carried. But when it was necessary, Colonel Mason 
exercised the governor's power of overruling the alcaldes, 
reversed decisions as he thought fit, and removed at least one 
alcalde from office. ^^ 

The civil authority of the alcaldes did not give them juris- 
diction over offenses committed by or upon soldiers; crimes of 
that sort were subject to punishment by a court martial or by 
a military commission. But difficulties attended even the admin- 
istration of martial law. Lieutenant Sherman was obliged to 
inform the judge advocate of a military commission in Los 
Angeles that he could not send proceedings of other commissions 
to serve as precedents in a trial for burglary; that the best he 
could do was to forward extracts from the statutes of Missouri, 
and a digest of the laws of Texas — the only law books to which 
he had access which treated the crime. He also instructed his 
correspondent that the commission must revise the sentence that 
had already been pronounced — a term of imprisonment in a state 
prison — since there was not such a penitentiary within thousands 
of miles.^^ 

12 Letters respecting appointments are found in Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, 
Doc. 17, pp. 433, 443, 451, 473, 511, 564; appeals, 391, 412; sentences, 410, 
445, 475-476, 487, 488; removal of Alcalde Nash, of Sonoma, 295, 318, 
320, 344, 375, also Archives, ''Unbound Docs." 112, 118-119, 145. See 
also Bancroft, Cnlifornia, V, 606-611. 

13 See Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 351-354, 402-403. 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 45 

The total lack of prison facilities gave rise to most perplexing 
problems. Under the Mexican system the punishment of white 
culprits had usuallj^ taken the form of a fine, while Indians had 
been whipped. In consequence the jails were not constructed 
for other than temporary confinement, and when a guard was 
necessary it was furnished by the citizens.^* The inventory of 
prison equipment in Yerba Buena, January, 1846, consisted of 

1 serviceable padlock. 

2 chairs. 

1 pair of shackles which are missing and should be searched for 
in passing. 15 

It is said that a hungry prisoner of that town called on one 
of the first American alcaldes with the door of the calaboose on 
his back, and demanded his breakfast. ^^ 

In spite of Mason's efforts to adhere to local usage, radical 
changes were gradually introduced. The most striking innova- 
tion was the adoption of the jury sj^stem. Under the Mexican 
practice, certain classes of disputes might be adjusted by "trials 
of conciliation," conducted before three arbitrators, w^ho ren- 
dered a decision by vote of the majority. While these homhres 
huenos exercised some of the functions of the American jury- 
man, the impartial jury of common law, rendering a unanimous 
and binding verdict, was not known in California.^' Neverthe- 
less Alcalde Colton had not been in office six weeks before he 

1* Stevenson to Mason, from Los Angeles, July 11, 1848, Archives, *' Un- 
bound Docs.," 164, Mason planned to erect some secure prisons {Cong. 
Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 558), but apparently the plan Avas not 
carried out {ibid., 790). 

15 Case of Z7. S. vs. Limantour, Transcript, IV, Exliibit O, p. 35. 

16 J. H. Brown, Beminiscences and Incidents of '^The Early Days" of 
San Francisco [1886], p. [30]. See also Eldredge, San Francisco, II, 545. 

17 << There was nothing like trial by jury known to the Mexican system; 
and there was no law authorizing anything of the kind" (Hittell, Calif or- 
Ilia, II, 663). Bryant spoke of the function of these courts as being similar 
to that of the American jury {What I Saiv in California, 436). 

46 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

introduced it into his court, where, in spite of the novelty of the 
method and an overwhelming confusion of tongues, the verdict 
was cheerfully accepted by the plaintiff, the defendant, and the 
assembled inhabitants of Monterey. The alcalde closed his 
account of the trial with the words: "If there is anything on 
earth besides religion for which I would die, it is the right of 
trial by jury. "^^ 

Our historians have treated as a matter of course this fitting 
of the Anglo-Saixon jury into the court of the California alcalde. 
Yet it was a step of profound revolutionary significance in that 
it waited not at all for treaties or statutes or even for a popular 
demand, but in order to meet the emergencies of a moment it 
altered the institutions of centuries by the sole initiative of a 
petty alcalde. The history of the state provides no example 
more typical of the serenity and self-confidence with which Amer- 
icans confronted the exigencies of their daily life. 

The example set in Monterey was soon followed in San 
Francisco, ^^ and it presently received official sanction when 
Colonel Mason gave orders that juries of six or more should 
decide all civil cases involving amounts exceeding one hundred 
dollars, and all criminal cases of a grave character. It was 
expressly stipulated, however, that the records of criminal con- 
victions should be reviewed by the governor before the infliction 
of any punishment. ^° The method was not entirely successful, 

18 Colton, Three Years, 47-48. 

19 Bryant said that the second jury trial was held in San Francisco 
before ''judge" [alcalde] Bartlett {What I Saw in California, 328). 
Samuel Brannan was then tried for mismanaging the Mormon funds. The 
Annals, p. 186, called this the first jury trial in California, and so did 
Franklin Tuthill (History of California, 1866, 214-215), but the priority 
of the jury trial at Monterey is more often acknowledged. By January, 
1847, Americans expected juries to be called, and the California Star, Jan. 
9 %, noted with indignation a case in which that privilege had been denied. 

20 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 384, 413-414, 419-422, 439- 
440, 452, 487, 494, 763. 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 47 

as native Californians were reluctant to sentence their fellow 
countrymen,2i and the alcaldes did not always await official 
sanction of their sentences. William Blackburn, of Santa Cruz, 
for instance, executed a murderer convicted by a jury, and after- 
wards reported the case for Mason's approval, explaining his 
haste on the ground that it was difficult, with volunteer guards, 
to confine the prisoner securely." 

Other modifications of Mexican usage soon appeared. The 
alcaldes often obeyed the direction to administer justice with 
''good sense and sound discretion" by turning to American 
statutes in the absence of books of Mexican law, and they were 
quite content if any stray volume could give a hint of precedent 
in the cases that came before them.^^ In the southern region 
where society was more firmly established there was closer adher- 
ence to Mexican traditions, but in the new towns of the North, 
where the Americans soon predominated, there was a greater 
tendency to ignore old customs.^* 

'2.'i^ Archives, '^ Unbound Docs.," 122. See also the experience in Louis- 
iana, infra, p. 420. 

^2 Arcliives, '^ Unbound Docs.," 108; Calif orma Star, 1847, Sept. 11 
%; W. F. Swasej, Early Bays and Men of California, 1891, p. 180; History 
of Fresno County, 1882, pp. 50-51. It was also reported that while under 
the influence of liquor Blackburn ordered a horse thief executed, and when 
sober wished to go on with the trial. The sheriff, who had concealed his 
prisoner, pretended for a time that the penalty had been inflicted. ''Never 
mind," responded Blackburn, ''proceed with the trial. All orders and 
judgments of this court must be justified by due and legal proceedings had." 
The culprit was then brought into court, tried and executed (Sacramento 
Union, 1871, Dec. 2 ^). 

23 The California Star, 1847, Jan. 23 %, reported that the alcalde at 
Sonoma had adopted the whole volume of the statutes of Missouri, and the 
issue of July 3 %, printed a notice of the court, couched in the formal terms 
of American jurisprudence. See also Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, 
p. 762. 

24 In his thesis From Alcalde to Mayor, p. 198, Eobertson studied the 
official personnel of the different districts, 1846 to 1850. He concluded that 
in San Francisco and Sonoma only Americans held office, in Santa Barbara 
only Californians; in Los Angeles all were natives at first, but they grad- 
ually gave way to Americans, while in other towns offices were divided 
between the two nationalities. 

48 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

While the theory of beneficent militarj^ government under 
the ancient statutes was both useful and ornamental in official 
proclamations, the control of California by the native regulations 
became increasingly difficult with every month. The correspon- 
dence of the authorities shows that they discountenanced such 
an exaggerated ideal of the alcaldes' authority as was expressed 
by Colton, but we are forced to conclude that in spite of this 
many of the local magistrates greatly exceeded the limits con- 
templated by the laws of Mexico or the orders of the American 
officers.-^ The newcomers from the United States found this 
arbitrary authority intolerably galling. The California Star 
kept up a constant fusillade of complaints and demands for civil 
organization. The editor gradually acquired some knowledge of 
the Mexican institutions presumably in force, but he continued 
to deplore that their imperfect establishment virtually left the 
alcaldes in supreme control, and he expressed the earnest hope 
that Colonel Mason would quickly promulgate some form of civil 

Week by week the hope of assistance from headquarters grew 
less, and on July 28 the alcalde of San Francisco, George Hyde, 
took the first step toward improvement by selecting six gentle- 
men to act as a council until the governor should think fit to 
sanction an election. Colonel Mason had already realized the 
need for such a body, and had drawn up a plan for the town 
government of San Francisco, but its transmission had been 
delayed, and it was not forwarded to Alcalde Hyde until the 

25 G. E. Pickett wrote to Kearny, March 23, 1847, that the alcaldes 
throughout California were ''but a mockery to law and justice, assuming 
and exercising prerogatives and powers far beyond any clothed [sic] them 
by the Mexican or United States' laws" (Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 
149). J. S. Euekel, on Dec. 28, 1847, described a deplorable state in San 
Jose (ibid., 132). On July 11, 1848, Colonel Stevenson reported that the 
alcalde of Santa Barbara assumed more authority than belonged to the 
President of the United States (ibid., 24). See also Bancroft, California, 
VI, 268 note 31; California Star, 1847, June 19 %. 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 49 

latter had announced the appointment of his council. ^^ The 
initiative, therefore, came from the citizens, not from the central 
authority, a characteristic California precedent, but in this case 
the governor did not consider the movement insubordinate, and 
gave permission for an election, which was held on September 13. 
A few simple regulations were quickly formulated, a constable 
was appointed, and the members of the council were also author- 
ized to act as conservators of the peace. ^^ 

Unfortunately, the creation of the council did not greatly 
better affairs in San Francisco. Hj^de was under' constant 
charges of incompetenc}^ and irregularity of conduct, and, 
although Mason did not think his removal necessary, he finally 
resigned after a year of wrangling and disorder. ^^ Town coun- 
cils were elected in some other places, but little information 
as to their services can be found in the correspondence of the 

More serious even than the despotism of the alcaldes was the 
confusion and uncertainty that complicated every question rela- 
tive to the ownership of real estate. The former laws had per- 
mitted the governors and pueblo authorities to make grants of 
land to private parties, and nearly all the desirable coast country 

2QConff. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 378-379; Annals, 195-197; 
Bancroft, California, V, 648-650 ; Moses, EstaMishment of Municipal Gov- 
ernment, 30-36. Coimcilmen W. D. M. Howard, E. P. Jones, and E. A. 
Parker became members of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851. 

27 Laws of the Town of San Francisco, 1847, pp. 4, 8. Two constables 
were appointed at first, then one who was to give his entire time at a salary 
of fifty dollars a month. 

28 Official correspondence in Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 361- 
362, 494, 499-500; Archives, '^ Unbound Docs.," 7, 27-42, 106-107. Hyde 
defended himself in his Statement of Historical Facts, 1878, MS in the 
Bancroft Library. See also Bancroft, California, V, 649-652; and his 
Chronicles of the Builders of the Commonwealth, 1891-1892, II, 286-294. 

2a See notes to Bancroft, California, V, chaps. 23, 24; Cong. Docs., Ser. 
No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 417, 431, 446, 498. Allusions to councils occur in 
Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 117, 121, 122, 339-340. A fcAv papers of 
the "Junta or Council" of San Jose, dated May 24 to Nov. 5, 1847, are 
preserved in the office of the city clerk. 

50 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

south of Sonoma was claimed by virtue of such grants, sometimes 
by three or four alleged owners. Under the obligations of inter- 
national law the new regime was bound to recognize titles which 
were valid under the old; but until documentary records could 
be investigated, and boundaries corrected by accurate survey, 
it was impossible to ascertain what land was legally in private 
hands, and what might be considered public property. In the 
meantime private conveyances could carry only doubtful rights, 
and the public tracts were closed to settlers, as the Federal 
Government had issued no regulations concerning them, and 
Colonel Mason refused to make grants that might ultimately 
be declared invalid.^^ At the same time the Americans who 
had participated in the bitter, if insignificant, struggle of the 
''Conquest" felt themselves to be victors on conquered soil,^^ 
and the immigrants who had arrived later supposed that the 
country was open for homesteads as had been other parts of the 
frontier. Many sturdy pioneers reached California at great risk 
and hardship, only to find that it was impossible to preempt 
land from the i^ublic domain, or even to purchase it under any 
satisfactory guaranty.^^ This situation transformed them into 
an army of squatters, hostile alike to Mexican landholders and 
to Federal authorities, and inclined, in a later decade, to defend 
their squatter's holdings with the rifle, as well as with endless 

In order to clear the way for intelligent action in the matter 
of titles, Colonel Mason directed Halleck to collect and examine 
the archives, which were scattered up and down the state. The 
latter could not make a report on the subject until March, 1849, 
and he then expressed the opinion that many of the old deeds 

so Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 321. 

31 See Colton, Three Years, p. 228. 

32 The California Star, 1847, Feb. 27 %, noted the desperate plight of 
American immigi-ants who had exhausted their resources and could not 
secure the anticipated homes. 

Colonel Richard B. Mason, Military Governor 51 

were invalid, either from fraud or from technical imperfec- 
tions,^^ Meanwhile Colonel Mason acted with extreme caution. 
He construed the Mexican regulations as permitting the sale of 
town lots by the alcaldes for municipal expenses, but he held that 
the governor had no authority either to rent or to sell the public 
land.^* In the case of disputed titles he advised rival claimants 
to arbitrate their differences until such time as proper courts 
could be established.^^ In the interim he prepared for future 
adjustments by appointing surveyors to begin the work of 
defining boundaries. 

There were many other perplexities that confronted the gov- 
ernor of California in 1847 : questions of revenue, of military 
equipment, of the control of Indians, of the restraint of lawless- 
ness on the part of insurgent natives and restless immigrants. 
Yet it seems safe to say that during the period of the war 
social order was fairly well preserved. The governor com- 
manded the respect and obedience of the people, and kept a 
close watch over local affairs ; there was constant communication 
between headquarters and the scattered posts and settlements, 
and military aid was ready to sustain the alcaldes in the dis- 
charge of their duties f^ there were supervision, and account- 
ability, and discipline, and there was a fundamental element of 
definite law behind the ''good sense and sound descretion" that 
guided the untrained officials in their judicial capacity. There 
was, to be sure, constant complaint in the newspaper, with unceas- 
ing demand for a more adequate system of government, but 

33 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 118-133. See also W. C. Jones, 
Report on the Subject of Land Titles in California (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 
589, Doc. 18) ; Dwindle, Colonial History of San Franoisco; Bancroft, Cali- 
fornia, VI, 529-581; Hittell, California, II, 739-755; Rodman, History of 
the Bench and Bar of Southern California, 52-85 ; William Kelly, Excursion 
to California, 1851, I, 199-213. 

34: Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 321, 440. 

35 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 380, 389, 435, 440. 

36 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 340, 349-350. 

52 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

there was no actual defiance or insurrection, and the Americans 
awaited improvement with what patience they might command. 
In retrospect we can see that the governor was helpless to effect 
any permanent reforms, but the insurmountable difficulties of 
the situation were not fully appreciated by the men who natur- 
ally resented a policy that neglected their pressing need for 
civil organization.^^ 

37 The California Star became constantly more emphatic in its con- 
demnation of existing conditions. On Dec. 25, 1847, it presented a most 
gloomy picture of criminal conditions, and on Jan. 22, 1848, it printed a 
violent protest against a state of affairs that allowed the alcaldes to ' ' exer- 
cise authority far greater than any officer in our Eepublic — the President 
not excepted. ' ' Again, on Jan. 29 : ' ' They [the governors] had no power 
to allow the people to form a government . . . but yet they have the right 
to appoint and continue Alcaldes in office, for an indefinite period, of 
notoriously inefficient, unprincipled and dishonest characters, and to permit 
their assuming unprecedented, unwarrantable and anti-republican powers. ' ' 



It must be remembered in making a study of this situation 
that the statesmen who had advocated the acquisition of Califor- 
nia by the United States desired the territory because of its 
strategic advantage in the development of commercial relations 
with countries bordering on the Pacific Ocean. Farsighted men 
anticipated a day when the natural advance of population would 
build American cities beside the harbors of the Coast to com- 
mand the great trade routes, and to stand guard over the western 
portals of the nation. But in their vision that day was suf- 
ficiently remote to allow a gradual development of the Federal 
policies, and a deliberate adjustment of the local problems that 
might arise from the conflict between Spanish and American 

Since the earliest pioneers had turned their faces toward the 
western wilderness, the American frontiersman had exhibited 
an amazing capacity for taking care of himself. Hardly had the 
explorer and the trapper threaded the most distant forests and 
traced their hidden waters before a creaking van lumbered behind 
them, bearing the household gear of some intrepid settler who 
was ready to transplant into virgin soil the life of an older group 
from which he had detached himself. His wife sat beside the 
driver, with a baby in her arms, while older boys and girls 
trudged along the uncleared track. Wlien the animals were 
finally unyoked the first task undertaken was the building of 
a rough log house that was to become a unit in the social organ- 
ization of a new community. And slowly or rapidly the new 
communitv formed itself, always out of the elements of the older 

54 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

commonwealths, reproducing with more or less modification the 
institutions of the parent society, until an increased population 
gave evidence of an accomplished novitiate, and warranted full 
admission into the sisterhood of states. There had been every 
reason to expect that the familiar sequences of the western fron- 
tier would be repeated with slight variation on the Pacific Coast, 
and in spite of the hardships of the overland journey the usual 
type of settlers, men, women, and children, quickly appeared 
beyond the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

A treaty of peace with Mexico was signed at Guadalupe 
Hidalgo, February 2, 1848. On that day no human wisdom 
could foresee that in California all precedents of westward 
emigration would be shattered by an overwhelming local emer- 
gency, and the coincident development of a tremendous national 
crisis. Gold had been discovered in January; by midsummer 
the state was in a frenzy of excitement, and at the close of 1849 
the population was increased by approximately eighty thousand 
new arrivals.^ There was instant need for the establishment of 
a strong government, and yet Congress could take no action on 
the subject without precipitating a dangerous quarrel between 
the advocates and the opponents of the extension of slaveholding 
territory. As a result the history of California was for a time 
inextricably bound up with the struggle over an institution that 
was already forbidden on Mexican soil,^ was repugnant to a 
majority of the American settlers, and was unsuited to every 
industry likely to develop on the Pacific Coast. 

1 There are no accurate statistics of the influx. The Memorial presented 
to Congress at the time of the application for admission, estimated the white 
population, Jan. 1, 1849, at 26,000 — Native Calif ornians, 13,000; Americans, 
8000; other nationalities, 5000: Jan. 1, 1850, total 107,000— Calif ornians, 
13,000; Americans, 76,000; other nationalities, 18,000 (Browne, Debates, 
Appendix, pp. xxii-xxiii). Some allowance should be made for exaggera- 
tion (see Bancroft, California, VI, 158-159; Hittell, California, II, 700; 
J. S. Hittell, San Francisco, 139-140). 

2 Slavery was abolished in Mexico by a decree of Sept. 15, 1829 (Hittell, 
California, II, 115-116). 

El Dorado 55 

The situation in Washington may be summarized very briefly. 
On August 8, 1846, a month and a daj^ after the occupation of 
Monterey, a bill was introduced into the House of Representa- 
tives asking for an appropriation to negotiate the adjustment of 
boundaries with Mexico. To that bill an amendment was offered 
by David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, providing: ''That as an 
express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any 
territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States . . . 
neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any 
part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall 
first be duly convicted. ' '^ The resolution was not an expression 
of extreme abolition sentiment, but rather of the determination 
of a large number of Northern men to prevent the further exten- 
sion of slaveholding territory. They controlled a majority in 
the House, and the bill passed, as amended, but defeat was pre- 
dicted in the Senate, where the measure was still under discussion 
when the session adjourned. The essentials of the Wilmot pro- 
viso subsequently reappeared in various forms and always met 
with ultimate failure; but the discussions crystallized the sec- 
tional discord of North and South into two opposing groups, 
equally determined in purpose, and so equally divided in power 
that neither could dominate the situation. 

The hostile attitude assumed by some members of Congress 
when they criticized the steps towards civil organization taken 
by Stockton and Kearny was a direct outcome of this discord, 
for neither party was willing to tolerate a delegation of Con- 
gressional power that might result in establishing a precedent 
for the future. So long as the war continued it was possible to 
insist upon the temporary and military nature of the rule 
extended over the conquered territory, and Congress refrained 
from action. The President suggested formal organization as 

3 Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 1 Sess., p. 1217. It is unnecessary to discuss 
here the history of the discord over slavery. Its existence, not its origin, 
was the fact that affected conditions in California. 

56 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

soon as he was convinced that the acquisition of California and 
New Mexico would be made permanent.* When he announced 
the ratification of the treaty of peace he again urged that the 
people of the annexed areas should be given civil institutions,^ 
but Congress adjourned on August 14, 1848, without adopting 
any constructive measures for California and New Mexico. 

It is probable that in the spring of 1848 Colonel Mason had 
determined to initiate some new methods in the civil organization 
of California. In May he sent to the printer the manuscript of 
a digest of the Mexican laws, and in anticipating its early pub- 
lication he announced that it would provide for the organization 
of a higher court, and also for the appropriation of funds for 
constructing jails. The press, however, was deserted before the 
laws were printed, and after the termination of the period 
of the war Mason felt that the changed status of California 
rendered his compilation out of date.^ 

The ratification of the treaty with Mexico was proclaimed 
in California by Governor Mason on August 7, 1848.'^ He then 
acknowledged with regret that California had not been placed 
upon a territorial basis before his dispatches left Washington, 
although he hoped that Congress had subsequently passed the 
requisite acts, and that the representatives of civil government 
would presently appear. Meanwhile he was greatly embarrassed 
b}^ the absence of any orders covering the emergency except a 
brief note, dated nearly five months earlier, which had directed 

4 Richardson, Messages, IV, 542. 

5 Eichardson, Messages, IV, 589-590. 

6 See Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 489, 555, 558, 559, 586, 677; 
Browne, Debates, Appendix, p. xv. The Alia California, 1849, June 14 %, 
said that a book of ''laws for the better government of California" had 
come from the press a few days before the news of peace was received, and 
that in consequence of the clianged status of California Governor Mason 
never published nor attempted to enforce those laws, Bancroft spoke of the 
code as if it had been promulgated (California, VI, 263), but Hunt cor- 
rected the statement ("Legal Status of California," as cited, 396). 

7 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, pp. 590-591. See also the comment 
of G. W. Crawford, secretary of war, ibid., 233. 

El Dorado 57 

him to take proper measures for the permanent occupation of 
Upper California as soon as he should receive official news of 
the ratification of the treaty of peace.^ Thus thrown upon his 
own judgment, he shaped his conduct by the broad principles 
of international law. Decisions in other cases had established 
the point that until changes could be made by competent 
authority, a ceded territory should retain its prior local laws, 
or should revert to them if they had been modified by the tempo- 
rary authority of a military commander.^ It was therefore 
announced that the existing laws would remain in force although 
greater freedom would be allowed in the matter of local elections. 
It seems incomprehensible that definite instructions were not 
sent to Colonel Mason as soon as peace wa^ declared, but no 
such official message was written until as late as October, 1848, 
when the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War, under 
circumstances that will be narrated hereafter, sent out letters 
which embodied the theory of the administration as to the status 
of the country. Secretary Buchanan then wrote :^^ 

By the conclusion of the treaty of peace, the military government which 
was established over them [the people of California] under the laws of 

war . . . has ceased to derive its authority from this source of power 

The termination of the war left an existing government, a government de 
facto, in full operation; and this will continue, with the presumed consent 
of the people, until Congress shall provide for them a territorial govern- 
ment. The great law of necessity justifies this conclusion. The consent 
of the people is irresistibly inferred from the fact that no civilized com- 
munity could possibly desire to abrogate an existing government when the 
alternative presented would be to place themselves in a state of anarchy, 
beyond the protection of all law, and reduce them to the unhappy necessity 
of submitting to the dominion of the strongest. 

8 Orders of March 15, 1848, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 255. 

9 See Browne, Debates, remarks of C. T. Botts, pp. 274-284, and Halleck's 
statement of the situation, Appendix, p. xxiv; Julius Klein, The Maying 
of the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, 1905, pp. 36-46; Hunt, ''Legal 
Status," as cited, 398-408; Birkhimer, Military Government and Martial 
Law, 361-369; Hittell, California, II, 701. 

10 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 7-8. Eepeated almost exactly 
by Secretary Marcy to Colonel Mason {ibid., 258-259). See also infra, 
p. 90. 

58 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

It was further stated, by Secretary Marcy, that it was the duty 
of the commander of the militarj^ force to recognize the govern- 
ment de facto, and to lend the aid of the military power to 
protect the persons and the property of the inhabitants of the 
territory. They, on their part, were urged to live peaceably 
and quietly under the existing government, but long before these 
admonitions were received in California all thoughts of peace 
and quietness had been driven from men's minds. 

The failure to establish a permanent form of civil government 
immediately upon the final acquisition of the new territory was 
a greater trial to Colonel Mason than to the most querulous 
citizen under his charge. He realized more plainly than anyone 
else that the treaty of peace greatly weakened his authority as 
governor, required the discharge of the volunteer troops enlisted 
only for the duration of war, and left him in a position where 
he was responsible for maintaining order, but was deprived of 
the means of enforcing a single regulation. 

The mining region was quite without any equipment for civil 
or military control. It lay along the western slope of the Sierra 
Nevada Mountains, and was separated from the original line of 
the missions by the hills of the Coast Range and the sun-scorched 
plain of the central valley. Some grants of land had been made 
b}^ the former government to adventurous colonists from abroad, 
notably to Captain John A. Sutter, who had been a commissioned 
officer, sometimes called an alcalde, under the old regime,^^ and 
whose fort at New Helvetia had been an outpost of patriarchal 
civilization. In February, 1848, John Sinclair was appointed 
alcalde ''for and in the district of country on the Sacramento 
river, near New Helvetia. "^^ In March a large district in the 

n Bancroft, California, IV, 137, 226; History of Sacramento County, 
1880, p. 58. On Dec. 20, 1847, Sutter estimated the white population east of 
the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers as 218 men and 71 women; Indians, 
22,362 (Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 306). 

12 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 486-487. Sinclair was men- 
tioned as alcalde as early as Feb. 15, 1848, in Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 
8, 15, 405. 

El Dorado 59 

Contra Costa and San Joaquin regions was cut off from the 
jurisdiction of San Jose/^ and Elani Brown was appointed its 
alcalde. These two appointments appear to represent the civil 
staff of the entire mining area. 

The earliest news of the gold discovery was received doubt- 
fully, but about the twelfth of May Sam Brannan roused San 
Francisco to hysterical excitement as he passed through the 
streets waving aloft a bottle filled with dust, swinging his hat, 
and shouting : ' ' Gold ! Gold ! Gold from the American River ! ' ' 
The town was quickly deserted. In June the Californm Star 
suspended publication, the school closed, workmen abandoned 
their employment, ofBcials left their posts. Soldiers and sailors 
joined the general stampede. In Monterey the officers were with- 
out servants, and even Colonel Mason was forced to take his 
turn at cooking.^* 

The governor quickly realized that there would be need of 
new methods of enforcing order. On May 23, 1848, he asked 
Major J. R. Snyder, who was about to visit the mines, to draw 
up an outline of desirable regulations, but nothing resulted from 
the effort.15 In June and July Colonel Mason himself made a 
tour of the mining district, and reported his observations to 
Washington.i^ Finding that crime of any kind was very infre- 
quent, and conscious of his inability to enforce a questionable 
authority, he did not try to establish there any general control. 
But he threatened to concentrate his forces in the field and to 
exclude unlicensed miners unless soldiers ceased to desert from 

13 Shinn, Mining Camps, 96; Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 8, 42. 

14 See Bancroft, California, VI, 52^81; Fayette Eobinson, California 
and Its Gold Eegions, 1849, Appendix, p. 135. The disastrous consequences 
of the desertions of soldiers and civil authorities are noted m Cong Vocs., 
Ser. No. 573, Doo. 17, pp. 603, 612, 613, 648, 650, 667, 677. Sutter's entire 
retinue deserted him, and his property was left at the '^^^^J^f^ffJ^^ll 
miners (J. A. Sutter, Personal Eeminiscences, 1876, pp. 190-196, MS m the 
Bancroft Librai-y). 

15 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 555-556. 

16 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 528-536. 

60 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the army, and unless civilians made provision for their families 
before seeking the placers.^^ * 

On August 7, 1848, the same day on which he proclaimed the 
ratification of the treaty with Mexico, Mason directed John 
Sinclair, the ''First Alcalde, Sacramento district," to call for 
an election of four subordinate alcaldes to serve at the four 
most prominent places in his district, which included the whole 
country west and northwest of the district of Sonoma.^^ I have 
found no documentary record that the election was held, nor 
that Sinclair exercised any jurisdiction over the more remote 
stretches of his district, although later in the year Mason ex- 
pected him to take charge of a murderer whose arrest was in 
prospect/^ That the governor attempted to inaugurate some 
more effective system of judicial control may be inferred from 
a letter dated at the "Upper Mines," September 3, 1848,^0 in 
which L. W. Hastings accepted the ' ' judgeship for the northern 
district" in order to establish law and government there, and 
to check the frequent robberies and murders. Later corre- 
spondence indicated that Mason abandoned such efforts in the 
expectation that news of territorial organization by Congress 
would be received before local improvements could be put in 
operation. 2^ 

But in spite of this anticipation the governor was exceedingly 

anxious over the situation in California. On August 19 he wrote 

to the adjutant general :^^ 

For the past two years no civil government has existed here, save that 
controlled by the senior military or naval officer; and no civil officers exist 
in the country, save the alcaldes appointed or confirmed by myself. To 

17 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 580. 

18 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 593. 

19 Letter of Oct 24, 1848, Cong. Bocs^, Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, p. 677. 
2^ Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 157. 

21 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 677. 

22 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 597-598. This ivas in reply 
to orders of March 15, see supra, p. 57 note 8. 

El Dorado 61 

throw off upon them or the people at large the civil management and con- 
trol of the country, would most probably lead to endless confusions, if not 
to absolute anarchy; and yet what right or authority have I to exercise 
civil control in time of peace in a Territory of the United States'? or, if 
sedition and rebellion should arise, where is my force to meet it? Two 
companies of regulars, every day diminishing by desertions, that cannot be 
prevented,23 will soon be the only military force in California. . . . Yet, 
unsustained by military force, or by any positive instructions, I feel com- 
pelled to exercise control over the alcaldes appointed, and to maintain 
order, if possible, in the country, until a civil governor arrive, armed with 

instructions and laws to guide his footsteps In the meantime, however, 

should the people refuse to obey the existing authorities . . . my force is 
inadequate to compel obedience. 

This was the situation in midsummer, 1848, when the uni- 
versal rush to the mining regions swept the men of the state 
away from their ordinary interests to seek their fortunes beneath 
the soil of the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

First in the gold fields were the natives of the United States 
who were already in California, for the strenuous labor of the 
mines did not greatly attract the indolent Californians.-* Soon 
after came many who had settled in the neighboring territory 
of Oregon.^^ Thus the nucleus of the mining population was 
composed of pioneers of the usual American type, and it was 
the universal verdict that even in the excitement and license of 
the mines they were not only hard working and self-reliant, 
but honest and generous in their attitude toward each other. 

News of the richness of the placers spread quickly, among 
the ports of the Pacific, and the next gold seekers came from 
Mexico, South America, and the Sandwich Islands. They were 
quickly followed by parties from Australia, among whom were 

23 <' There mil be fifty able-bodied soldiers fit for duty in California" 
(Eeport, Aug. 25, 1848, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 603). 

24 Hittell, California, III, 161-162. 

25' 'I think that at least two-thirds of the male population of Oregon, 
capable of bearing arms, started for California in the summer and fall of 
1848" (Peter H. Burnett, Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer, 
1880, p. 254). 

62 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

numbers of discharged convicts and ticket-of-leave men. Such 
foreigners, unaccustomed to self-government and in some cases 
outlaws by instinct and experience, were undesirable additions 
to the ranks of the miners, and were much disliked as alien 
intruders who had no rights in the mineral wealth of the public 
lands.^*^ The eastern states received information of the mines 
so late in the autumn of 1848 that the season was unfavorable 
for undertaking the overland journey, but twenty thousand men 
assembled on the banks of the Missouri River, eager to start 
for the West as soon as the winter was over, aaid a fleet of 
vessels prepared to carry passengers to California by way of 
the Isthmus of Panama, and around Cape Horn.^^ The real 
rush therefore reached the state early in 1849, when thousands 
of men poured over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and other 
thousands sailed through the Golden Gate into the harbor of 
San Francisco. 

The typical pioneer was no longer in the ascendant. Men 
came from every section of the land, and from every walk of 
life. Puritans and drunkards, clergymen and convicts, honest 
and dishonest, rich and poor — they strode side by side across 
the plains, crowded the decks of steamers, and worked shoulder 
to shoulder in the diggings. A little later came all the world, 
and the people of Europe and Asia and Africa brought to Cali- 
fornia every social inheritance entailed upon humanity since the 
dawn of history.^^ 

26 The subject of forei^ miners is discussed infra, pp. 121-126. J. S. 
Hittell spoke of the predominance of aliens during 1848 {San Francisco, 
140). It is quite certain, however, tliat in 1849 the American arrivals 
greatly exceeded those of other nationalities. 

27 See Bancroft, California, VI, 110-163. 

28 On Nov. 1, 1849, the Alta reported in the harbor vessels flying the 
flags of England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hamburg, Bremen, Bel- 
gium, New Granada, Holland, Sweden, Oldenburg, Chili, Peru, Eussia, 
Mexico, Ecuador, Hanover, Norway, Hawaii, and Tahiti (Steamer Ed., sup- 
plement •%). The world-wide interest in California mines is attested by 
the great number of books on the subject, published in various European 

El Dorado 63 

They found a land of magnificent distances, sparsely settled 
toward the south, and virgin wilderness from the mining region 
to the northern boundary. The genius of the country was an 
apparition of the Mexican law, invoked by a military-civil 
governor whose authority was unsupported by even a show of 
physical force, and rested precariously on the presumed consent 
of the governed. It is necessary for us to picture as vividly as 
possible the tremendous excitement of these first months of 
the gold rush, then to revert to Colonel Mason's report-^ of 
August 19, and remind ourselves that he had neither the author- 
ity nor the equipment to impose any regulations upon these men, 
who were already miles removed from the jurisdiction of the 
alcaldes he had installed in office. Again we must visualize the 
thousands of gold seekers, constantly keyed to the highest pitch 
of excitement, gathered in mountain camps far from the nearest 
office of government, generally unacquainted with the customs 
prevailing in the older settlements, and perfectly aware that 
there was no executive strong enough to enforce order, no police 
empowered to make arrest, and no jails where the lawless could 
be confined. 

The miners had, however, at least two pressing social neces- 
sities : every man wished to be assured that he could dig where 
he chose without displacement by an interloper, and that his life 
and his gold should be reasonably safe from the assaults of 
violence. Here were primitive elements of society: a man's 
relation to the soil, and his relation to his neighbor, in the 
restricted sense of the other man who might jump his claim, 
rob his tent, or shoot him in the back. 

But the people called upon to adjust these primitive relations 
were not primitive people. They were the heirs of all the ages : 
their social reactions to their environment were not the reactions 
of inexperienced, unsophisticated men, groping through experi- 

29 See supra, p. 60. 

64 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

ment and failure after methods that should meet their particular 
needs. Americans were the dominant spirits in '48; they 
formed a great majority of the miners of '49, and the American 
tradition and experience hovered as a mighty influence over 
the inchoate groups that hurled themselves swiftly together, and 
as swiftly disintegrated, while anticipation and disappointment 
drove the eager miners restlessly from gulch to gulch. They 
carried with them no itinerant shrine of civic life, but rather 
the tools with which that shrine might be erected wherever 
their wandering feet should linger. For wherever three or four 
Americans gathered themselves together, they understood how 
to accomplish rapid but effective social organization by agreeing 
to ascertain and accept the wishes of the majority. 

The popular imagination has been delighted by many pictures 
of the California miner of 1848 and 1849, with his uncouth 
virtues and his picturesque vices, his courage, his rough kindness, 
his swift and unsparing justice, and his simple standards of 
manliness and integrity. But the crucial moment of his adven- 
turous life has been passed over with a light touch, possibly 
because he met it lightly and without melodrama. It was the 
moment when the secret strike of a prospector became public 
property. He had traveled far, perhaps quite alone, perhaps 
as a member of some little company; he had carried on his own 
back tools and food and rifle across country still impassable for 
a pack animal ; he had spent days in barren, heart-breaking toil, 
and nights at the mercy of murderous Indians, and at last he 
had ''struck it rich!" But before his dream of fortune might 
be realized there came others who had spied on his movements, 
followed his trail, and overtaken him in time to divide the fruits 
of his suffering, his patience, and his skill.^° This was the danger 

30 Such an incident was described by E. G. Buffum, who found a rich 
ravine and hoped to make a fortune from the location. Within twenty-four 
hours he was traced, and the gulch was over-run with other miners. About 
$10,000 was taken in a few days, of which the discoverer realized only 
about $1000 {Six Months in the Gold Mines, 1850, p. 91). 


El Dorado 65 

point in California life— excited men, in a remote mountain 
gorge, with gold uncovered at their feet and loaded weapons 
in their hands. And this was the salvation of that life : they put 
their guns aside, sat down and talked things over, estimated the 
richness of the placer, and apportioned it fairly between them. 
In that action was displayed the fundamental characteristic of 
California existence in 1848 and 1849 : swift agreement by the 
will of the majority on matters of common interest, and cheerful 
loyalty to such decisions until they might be changed by another 
popular verdict. And by this token the Argonaut of '49 claims 
his honorable descent as a social being through two centuries of 
American pioneers, across three thousand miles of American 
frontier, from the Pilgrims of the Mayflower, the settlers of the 
Cumberland, and the explorers of the Old Northwest. Too little 
effort has been made to set him in his place as an American, in 
a large majority of cases born and bred east of the Mississippi, 
equipped with the traditions of his people, but thrust into cir- 
cumstances unprecedented even amid the infinite variations 
developed during the conquest of the continent. 




The Argonaut of California unquestionably belonged to the 
great brotherhood of American frontiersmen, but it is equally 
true that his surroundings created problems which were entirely 
his own. A few of the fundamental differences that distinguished 
the American settlement of California from that of other parts 
of the frontier require particular emphasis here. 

While the majority of the miners came from the United 
States, the mixture of men from every class and section of the 
nation and from all the nations of the earth destroyed that unity 
of descent and of social experience that had elsewhere blended 
pioneer communities into homogeneous groups. Moreover, in 
place of the gradual development of complex conditions accom- 
panied by progressive adjustment of social mechanism, many of 
the problems of life became suddenly acute as throngs of new 
arrivals crowded into the congested towns and swarmed over 
the restricted area of the mining regions. 

The advance into California, unlike the advance of the men 
of the western waters, was not the migration of a people, pushed 
westward by hereditary tendencies. It was more like the onrush 
of viking hordes lured by spoil to a foreign shore. The adven- 
turers were nearly all men,^ nearly all young; they came with 
no thought of remaining beyond the time necessarj^ to snatch a 
fortune from the placers; they had no purpose of reproducing 
accustomed institutions in a land of transient sojourn ; and they 

1 From April 12 to Dec. 31, 1849, the arrivals by sea were 28,269 men 
and 800 -women (Browne, Debates, Appendix, p. xxii). See also J. D. 
Borthwick, Three Years in California, 1857, pp. 381-383; Burnett, Eecol- 
lections, 301; Alexandre Holinski, La Calif ornie, ed. 2, 1853, pp. 125-126. 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 67 

were utterly divorced from those ties of home and family which 
have ever been the center of community life. 

Another radical difference arose from the circumstance that 
the earliest California miners formed no fixed attachment to the 
soil, and that they were interested in a given locality only so 
long as it yielded freely of surface gold. The greater part of 
the mining region was on the public domain of the United States. 
No statutes provided for its temporary or permanent occupa- 
tion, as, before the discovery of gold was made public, Mason had 
abolished the laws relative to the denouncement of mines, he had 
never substituted regulations of his own, nor had Congress placed 
California under the laws that in other regions opened public 
land to private ownership.- The miners, then, were simply 
trespassers on land belonging to the United States, but they 
serenely accepted their anomalous position as a sort of modus 
Vivendi, applied to it the old idea of social control based on 
a more or less extemporaneous expression of the will of the 
majority, and by this appeal to mutual agreement rather than 
to the strong arm established their relation to the soil on an 
equitable basis. In commending the usual fairness of their regu- 
lations, however, one must not ignore their disregard of the 
prior rights of a few men who held private titles to property 
in the mining regions. Sutter, for instance, was despoiled of 
his live stock and equipment, and James W. Marshall, who dis- 
covered gold, had his own prospects ruined by miners who paid 
no attention to his claims as a legitimate land owner.^ 

2 See Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 476, 532. Mason's succes- 
sor. General Eiley, continued the policy of non-interference {ibid., 789). 

3 See E. E. Dunbar, Tlie ^Romance of tlic Age, 1867, p. 129; J. B. Landis, 
''Life and Work of General John A. Sutter," Lancaster County [Penn- 
sylvania] Historical Society, Favers XVII (1913), 288; G F. Parsons L^fe 
and Adventures of James W. MarshaU, 1870; Hittell California, III, 52-54. 
But compare a statement of H. I. Simpson, who said that a fine deposit on 
Sutter's property was not disturbed during the summer of 1848 (Emigrant s 
Guide, 1848, p. 6). 

68 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The growth of every camp was merely an expansion, in vary- 
ing terms, of the relation of the man first on the ground to the 
newcomer who was determined to work beside him. At first, 
while the placers were unexplored and miners were compara- 
tively few, there was little need for organization. As early as 
June, 1848, however, one observer wrote : "It is curious how soon 
a set of rude regulations sprung into existence, which everybody 
seemed to abide by."* In many cases the initial steps towards 
association were taken before the miners reached the field. 
Parties of discharged volunteer soldiers who hastened to the 
mines as soon as they were mustered out in the early fall of 
1848, often adopted rules to enforce necessary concert of action. 
Larger companies from the East were usually bound together 
not only by commercial agreements, but also by pledges to follow 
certain lines of conduct and to accept the will of the majority 
as it might be expressed in future contingencies.^ 

Such companies tended to speedy dissolution, owing to 
conditions unforeseen at the moment of their formation.^ Never- 
theless, they supplied elements of unit}^ which asserted themselves 
in place after place, while the camp communities were so quickly 
assembled and so hastily dissolved that organization appeared 
only under the pressure of actual necessity. But whenever that 
necessity arose there was instant appeal to the American ex- 
pedient of popular decision, and no question was too important 
or too trivial for an ultimatum by the vox populi. The little 

4 J. T. Brooks, Four Months among the Gold-Finders, ed. 2, 1849, p. 77. 

5 See Bancroft, California, VI, 144 et seq.; Hittell, California, III, 232- 
250. Such an association is described in the Diary of Nelson Kingsley, 
1914, Specimen rules may be found in W. E. Ryan, Fersonal Adventures 
in... California, 1850, I, 211-214; A. J. McCall, Great California Trail, 
1882, p. 17. 

6 D. B. Woods, in Sixteen Months at the Gold Diggings, 1851, pp. 171-176, 
gave the following statistics of fourteen companies for 1849 and 1850: 
Number of members, 344; total days of labor, 35,876; value of gold 
extracted, $113,633; average for each day's labor, $3.16. 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 69 

companies voted where the camp should be pitched ; who should 
be cook; who wash the dishes. In one instance it was decided 
by ballot how a particularly luxurious packing box should be 
enjoyed as a couch, in strictly fair rotation." If three prospectors 
discovered a promising placer they voted to assign a specified 
area to each one; if three hundred more invaded the gulch, 
claims were readjusted by another vote.^ If a dispute arose 
between individuals, their companions dropped their picks, 
listened to the controvery, rendered a decision, and saw to it 
that the verdict was enforced. In matters of greater moment 
the halloo was sounded from ridge to ridge, and a general gather- 
ing from a larger district was summoned for careful discussion 
and deliberation. 

In the earlier months and in the smaller camps only the 
simplest regulations were required, and they were adopted by a 
verbal agreement, or sometimes even by silent assent to the 
obvious will of the entire group. As the number of miners 
increased, and the camps assumed more permanent character, 
the rules became more elaborate. Shinn said that laws were 
formulated as early as the summer of 1848. In the Annals of 
San Francisco it is stated that the first code was framed by 
Colonel J. D. Stevenson, and was adopted in the fall of that 
year by miners in the district above Mokelumne Hill.^ One of 
the best known of the early miners, who had been in the field 
from the first months of the gold excitement, wrote that he never 
heard of a specified miner's claim until the spring of 1849, when 
at Wood's Creek, in the southern mines, he saw the ground 

7 Buff urn, Six Months, 26-27. 

8 One pioneer said that when the mines were opened around Nevada City 
a determined prospector claimed all the dig^gs as far as his rifle carried. 
The miners soon saw that more practical agreement_s were necessary (O. D. 
Ferguson, Experiences of a Forty-niner, 1888, p. 157). 

9C. H. Shinn, Land Laivs of Mining Districts, 1884, p. 236; Annals, 

70 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

measured off with tapes, under the direction of alcaldes, so as 
to prevent disputes.^^ It is reported in the history of Colusa 
Countj^ that formal laws were adopted by a meeting at Rose Bar 
in April, 1849, and that "so far as then known" they were the 
earliest of their kind.^^ It is evident, however, that by the 
spring of 1849 the custom had become so widespread that one 
writer humorously referred to the ''lex diggerorum" which 
placed the strong and the weak upon a footing of equality, 
defined the claims that might be set apart, protected the tools 
left on the ground as an evidence of proprietorship, and per- 
mitted the adventurers to hold their rights as securely as if they 
were guaranteed by a charter from the government.^ ^ 

Shinn stated that the smaller camps carried on most of their 
proceedings without written records.^^ As the regulations still 
accessible are not dated earlier than 1850, it is probable that 
meetings were called to adopt new codes, or amend old ones, 
when the organization of the state afforded an opportunity for 
permanent entry on the books of the county recorder. 

The miners ' laws usually dealt with the size of the individual 
claim, the signs by which ownership should be indicated, the 
amount of work necessary to establish and retain possession, the 

10 J. H. Carson, Early EecollecUons of the Mines, ed. 2, 1852, p. 10. The 
two watersheds of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers were generally 
distinguished as the ''northern" and ''southern" mines. 

11 Colitsa County, 1880, p. 80. 

'y-^ Notes on California and the Placers [by James Delavan], 1850, pp. 
64, 66. "A tool left in the hole in which a miner is working, is a sign that 
it is not abandoned yet, and that nobody has a right to intrude there, and 
this regulation, which is adopted by the silent consent of all, is generally 
complied with (F. P. Wierzbicki, California as It Is, and as It May Be, 1849, 
p. 45). A few years later H. E. Helper said: "Every Bar is governed by 
such laws as the majority of the miners see fit to enact, not by written or 
published documents, but by verbal understanding. . . . Almost every Bar is 
governed by a different code of laws. . . . The discoverer of new diggings is 
awarded a double or triple share, or only an equal part, as a majority of 
those on the ground shall determine" (Land of Gold, 1855, p. 151). See 
also Kelly, Excursion to California, II, 24. 

13 Shinn, Mining Camps, 168. 

Vox PopuU in the Mines of California 71 

title to water rights, and the adjustment of disputes. Speaking 
of them, in the broadest sense, H. W. Halleck said :^* 

The miners of California have generally adopted ... the main principles 
of the mining laws of Spain and Mexico, by which the right of property 
in mines is made to depend upon discovery and development ; that is, dis- 
covery is made the source of title, and development, or working, the con- 
dition of the continuance of that title. 

The strength of these regulations lay in the universal acceptance 
of the theory that the local group had a right to establish its own 
rules, and in the democratic practice that gave an equal voice 
in the open conference to every citizen of the United States, 
whether he spoke in the quaint phrases of the illiterate frontiers- 
man, or in the polished tongue of a college graduate. One ma}^ 
confidently say of the miners of California, as Albert Bushnell 
Hart has said of the New England colonists, that they practiced 
"that acceptance of the will of the majority which is the supreme 
test of popular self government. ' '^^ One may also apply to them 
the words of James Br^^ce : ' ' In nothing does the executive talent 
of the people better shine than in the promptitude wherewith the 
idea of an organization for a common object is taken up, [and] 

14 See Gregory Yale, Legal Titles to Mining Claims and Water Eights, 
in California, 1867, p. 71. On the subject of miners' laws, see also Shinn, 
Mining Camps, and his Land Laws of Mining Districts; Bancroft, Califor- 
nia, III, chaps. 15-17; Hittell, California, III, 251-271; C. H. Lindley, 
Treatise on the American Law Belating to Mines and Mineral Lands within 
the Fullic Land, ed. 3, 1914, especially on California, I. sees. 40-49, pp. 
71-88; J. W. Thompson, United States Mining Statutes, 1915, I, 635-643; 
Eodman, History of the Bench and Bar of Southern California, 85-92; C. L. 
Brace, The New West, 1869, pp. 128-129. Collections of miners' codes are 
given in J. Eoss Browne, Eeports upon the Mineral Eesoiirces of the United 
States West of the Bocl-y Mountains [for 1866], 1867, especially pp. 226- 
242; J. F. Davis, Historical Sl-etch of the Mining Laic in California, 1902; 

Heckendorn & WW^on, Miners 4^ Business Men's Directory 1856 

of Tuolumne. A special report prepared by Clarence King for the Tenth 
Census of the United States (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 2144, Doc. 42, Pt. 14), 
collected all the local mining laws and regulations of the nation that could 
then be obtained. 

15 A. B. Hart, National Ideals Historically Traced, 93. 

72 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

in the instructive discipline that makes every one who joins 
in starting it fall into his place. "^^ 

The most interesting study of this phase of California life 
may be found in the works of Charles H. Shinn, but his treat- 
ment differentiated the pioneers of the Pacific Coast too sharply 
from those of the East and the Middle West. He felt that the 
latter ' ' melted away before the tides of civilization, without being 
forced by imperious necessity to the creation of any code of local 
laws, or to the organization of any form of permanent govern- 
ment, ' ' and that the mining camp was the ' ' original contribution 
of the American pioneer to the art of self-government. ' '^^ 

This point of view led Shinn to trace the miners' dexterity 
in self-government directly to the racial genius of their Teutonic 
forbears, to connect the miners' meeting immediately with the 
Germanic folk moot,^^ and to forget the long process of social 
education that had taken place in the Old World, in the Ameri- 
can colonies, and on the Western frontier. Professor Royce 
also ignored the American heritage of the California miners, 
and spoke of the result attained by their efforts at self-organiza- 
tion as in its nature unstable, since it had not been won as a 
prize of social devotion but only attained by a sudden feat of 
instinctive cleverness. ^^ Just as Shinn 's admiration for the 
heroic qualities of his actors left them still unrelated to their 
forefathers of wilderness and inland valley, so did Royce 's 
censure of their faults fail to relate their sins of citizenship to 
similar shortcomings elsewhere, and to recognize them as the 
product of a democracy that made haste to possess the continent 
before it perfected the vehicle of popular government. 

16 Bryce, American Commonwealth, II, 282. 

17 Shinn, Mining Camps, 4. 

18 Shinn, Mining Camps, 2-3, 22-24, 125, 176. Reference to the New 
England town meeting and the settlers' associations of the West is made, 
however, in his Land Laws of Mining Districts, 50. 

19 Royce, California, 281. 

Vox FopuU in the Mines of California 73 

The details of the miners' laws, interesting as they might be, 
need no long- discussion here. It is only necessary to establish 
the fact that in circumstances where no exterior force could 
impose regulations, each little concourse of miners voluntarily 
imposed upon itself laws which determined the adjustment of 
claims in accordance with the will of the majority.^^ 

It is very easy to concentrate attention upon the picturesque 
features of the miners' meeting: to visualize a firelit group of 
stalwart m.en, shut away from the world by a shadowy barrier 
of encircling forest, or to imagine the wild camp Sunday that 
was nevertheless a favorite day for the gatherings that decreed 
the laws for those roaring bravadoes of pick and pan. But 
neither the picturesque simplicity nor the mad disorder should 
obscure the significant fact that the camp-made laws were 
efficient. They met a temporary emergency, but they met it so 
well, with such stability of fundamental fairness, and such 
flexibility for local necessity, that for several years after the 
Federal control was asserted and the state organization was 
completed, the laws passed at those miners' meetings and at their 
successors of a gentler decade were accepted as the law of the 
land, were finally incorporated in the codes of California, and 
adopted in many other states.^^ Again it must be borne in 
mind that while California was emerging from the chaos of the 
transition period, while a constitutional convention was at work 
and while successive legislatures were in session, the men of the 
Sierra mining camps still made their own mining laws with a 

20 ''No alcalde, no council, no justice of the peace, was ever forced upon 
a district by an outside power" (Shinn, Mming Camps, 177). 

21 The miners of other districts followed California precedents, and 
developed some modifications and improvements which affected national 
legislation. See Beulah Hershiser, '' Influence of Nevada on the National 
Mining Legislation of 1866," Nevada Historical Society, Eeports, III 
(1911-1912) 127-167; T. M. Marshall, ''Miners' Laws of Colorado,' 
American Historical Beview, XXV (1920), 426-439; and his EarJij Eecords 
of Gilpin County, 1920. 

74 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

direct popular sovereignty that left a profound impression on 
the spirit and institutions of the commonwealth. -- 

The miner's relation to his claim was thus adjusted with 
marked success, and with comparatively little disorder, but as 
much cannot be said of the establishment of the relations between 
man and man. The newcomers in California, even those who 
hailed from older states, were doubtless familiar with the usual 
features of popular tribunals. The precedent that had been 
tolerated as a matter of necessity in pioneer settlements had been 
followed in many better organized localities when courts had 
failed to punish crime, or when the bitterness engendered by the 
slavery question had given rise to acts of offensive partisanship.^^ 
Trials by lynch law had occurred in several overland parties 
during the long course of the westward journey, and it is not at 
all surprising that, as soon as emergencies arose in the mines, 
the impromptu organization of the camp meeting transformed 
itself without hesitation into a criminal court. 

22 The miners' rights were not confirmed by Federal authority until 
Congress passed the general lode mining law of 1866 (Z7. S. Statutes at 
Large, XIV, 251). The chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining, 
urging the passage of the biU, said: ''It will be readily seen how essential 
it is that this great system, established by the people in their primary 
capacities, and evidencing by the highest possible testimony the peculiar 
genius of the American people for founding empire and order, shall be 
preserved and affirmed. Popular sovereignty is here displayed in one of its 
grandest aspects, and simply invites us not to destroy, but to put upon it 
the stamp of national power and unquestioned authority" (Cong. Docs., 
Ser. No. 1210, Doc. 105, p. 2). It is significant of the spirit in which Royce 
reviewed this period that he said of the California miners : ' ' They resist 
strenuously any legislative interference with their local self-government in 
these matters. They insist absolutely upon the autonomy of the miners' 
district, as regards the land; and for years, against all legislative schemes 
at home, and all congressional propositions at Washington, they actually 
maintained this autonomy" (California, 316). 

23 Cutler, Lynoh-Law, 91 et seq. Most of Cutler's examjDles for this 
period Avere from the Liberator, and record outrages upon abolitionists and 
Negroes rather than cases of frontier justice. See also P. W. Black, "Lynch- 
ings in Iowa," Iowa Journal of History and Politics, X (1912), 151-254, 
and his ''Attempted Ljoichings in Iowa," Annals of Iowa, ser. 3, XI (1914), 

Vox Popiili in the Mines of California 75 

During the summer and early autumn of 1848 there was 
little need for severity of any kind as disorders were rare and 
•some early observers reported a period of almost Arcadian 
honesty that lasted well into the more strenuous da^^s of '49.^* 
Bancroft recorded crimes in the region of San Francisco and 
San Jose, but found only two instances of outrages in 1848 that 
incurred the punishment of popular tribunals in the mining 
regions. Carson wrote that honesty was the ruling passion 
among the miners of '48 and recalled but one case of "high 
misdemeanor" in that j^ear. Of later months he said :^^ 

This honesty . . . Avas not to be found in the crowds that daily thickened 
around us in '49. Hordes of pick-pockets, robbers, thieves and swindlers 
were mixed with men who had come Avith honest intentions. . . . Murders, 
thefts, and heavy robberies soon became the order of the day. . . . Whipping 
on the bare back, cutting off ears, and hanging, soon became matters of as 
frequent occurrence as those of robbery, theft and murder. 

These statements are in substantial accord with the experi- 
ences of a majority of the pioneers. The question of mining 
claims had been adjusted on a peaceful basis, but the camps now 
faced the more difficult problem of controlling without the cus- 
tomary aid of law a dangerous class of criminals.-*^ Every fairly 

24 See report of Mason, Aug. 17, 1848 {Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 
17, p. 532) ; Bancroft, California, A^I, 84; Brooks, Four Months, 67; Alonzo 
Delano, Life on the Ploins and among the Diggings, ed. of 1857, p. 359; 
T. T. Johnson, California and Oregon, or Sights in the Gold Begion, ed. 3, 
1851, p. 146; James Neall, Jr., Statement, 4-5, MS in the Bancroft Libra^s^ 

25 Carson, Early Recollections, 6, 11-12, 26. James Lynch, familiar with 
events in '48 and '49, thought that the first jury trial in the mines was at 
Murphy's Diggings in the spring of '49 (With Stevenson to California, 
1896, p. 48). 

26 ' ' There ^yas another branch of legislation soon called for to suppress 
a system of thieving that Avas fast spreading; but the code of the famous 
Judge Lynch Avas unanimously adopted, and under its oral provisions any 
person caught in 'flagrante delicto' AA'as shot doAvn AA'ithout ceremony, or 
subjected to any other summary punishment tlie detector might prefer. . . . 
While disapproving of the modicum of punishment, and the manner of 
putting it in force, I must admit that some very stringent measures Avere 
necessary to keep in check the laAA-less and abandoned characters Avho flocked 
to the mines" (Kelly, Excursion to California, II, 24-25). 

76 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

successful miner collected gold dust in larger or smaller quan- 
tities which he was obliged to carry on his person or to leave 
about his tent, for there were no safes in the mines, and no bank- 
ing or express agents ready to receive and forward treasure to 
the cities. As these accumulations of gold dust were a constant 
temptation to theft and murder, it became a vital necessity to 
make robbery unprofitable, even in a country that lacked the 
restraining influences of courts and jails. In the summer of 
1848 Brooks said that every man guarded his gold dust with his 
own rifle,-' and the crimes of that season were doubtless avenged 
by the aggrieved party when detection was possible. As popula- 
tion increased united action became necessary. Then the miners 
almost universally adopted the custom of improvising courts 
for the immediate trial of suspected offenders, and it is important 
to realize that these trials were not a social retrogression towards 
anarchy, but an effort to protect society by elevating the pun- 
ishment of crime above the primitive and dangerous plane of 
personal vengeance. ^^ 

The many anecdotes of miners ' trials given by Shinn, Hittell, 
and Bancroft concur in describing the usual method as being 
the immediate trial of the suspect before an improvised court, 
with judge and jury, although sometimes the meeting as a whole 
voted on the verdict and sentence. Counsel were often assigned 
for prosecution and defense, evidence was always taken at its 
face value, and no technical evasions were allowed. The accounts 
that have been preserved indicate a large percentage of convic- 
tions. No doubt acquittals made less impression on the observer, 
and it must be remembered that the presumption of innocence 

27 Brooks, Four Montlis, 177, 183-184, 206. 

28 E. A. Boss, in his Sooial Control, 1901, pp. 41-52, used the develop- 
ment of the mining camps in California as an illustration of the progress 
of community action. "There are offences," he wrote, "that exasperate 
the group as well as offences that arouse the ire of the individual. In this 
common wrath and common vengeance lies the germ of a social control of 
the person." 

Vox Popidi in the Mines of California 11 

was less than in ordinary courts, as arrest followed swiftly upon 
the discovery of crime, and many culprits were caught red- 
handed.'^ Nevertheless conviction was dangerously easy, and 
some innocent men must have suffered cruel injustice. When 
guilt was once established it was considered imperative to rid 
the camp of the criminal, as there was no way of confining him 
pending a possible reformation. Immediate execution was the 
most effectual process of elimination and it was often employed. 
Sometimes a rough dignity solemnized such tragic occasions, but 
instances occurred of revolting ferocity and violence. If it was 
considered safe to give the guilty man another chance, he was 
punished, usually by whipping, and driven from camp with the 
warning that reappearance • would mean death. Thirty-nine 
lashes on the bare back was a common sentence, but a hundred 
or even more, were not unknown. 

Many of the Argonauts who participated in these trials 
always maintained the stern necessity for such prompt and severe 
penalties and pointed out the incontestable fact that in a country 
without penitentiaries whipping and execution were the only 
alternatives.^^ Corporal punishment was not so repugnant to 
the standards of 1849 as it is to those of the present day. It had 
been rigorously employed everywhere upon the frontier, it was 
still legalized in some of the older states, and in others it had 
been abandoned but a short time.^^ The pioneer journalist. 

29 For incidents of acquittal, see Albert Lyman, Journal of a Voyage 
to California, 1852, pp. 121-122; Woods, Sixteen Moiitlis, 98. 

30 General Eiley attributed much of the lynching in 1849 to the lack of 
secure jails {Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 790). 

31 Sherman cited the laws of Texas as a precedent for flogging a thief, 
and Mason recommended the penalty for very aggravated cases {Cong. 
Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 403, 445). The severity of frontier pun- 
ishments was condemned by Howard, Introduction to Local Constitutional 
History, 416-423, and it was defended by Judge D. D. Banta, in ''The 
Criminal Code of the NorthAvest Territory," Indmna Magazine of History, 
IX (1913), 234-236. The following opinion was given by the Supreme 
Court of New Mexico: ''In new countries, Avithout jails . . . a pressing 
necessity for the adoption of the punishment of whipping for the ofeense 

78 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Bayard Taylor, heartily approved of the miners ' methods. Shinn 
defended them stoutly, and went so far as to say that "the 
miners' court was never wittingh^ cruel in its judgments, 
although it was liable to be swayed by prejudice or passion. "^- 
Unfortunatelj^, tales of cruelty cannot be denied. One of the 
most brutal scenes was the first lynching in the state, that of 
four Mexicans, at Dry Diggings (Placerville), which long there- 
after bore the name of Hangtown.^^ Josiah Royce spoke for a 
large group when he condemned all such punishments as bar- 
barous, and in the end futile to reform the criminal.^* 

It is difficult to see, even in retrospect, how preventive and 
reformatory measures could have been adopted. Every camp 
faced dissolution at a moment's notice, and it could not suspend 
work to hew lumber, quarry stone, and erect a secure jail. 
Moreover, it was an isolated unit in its social existence, unable 
to establish systematic cooperation with any other social unit, 
or to assist in devising a general policy for the preservation of 
order. In such an environment it was not to be expected that 
the young men of the mining region would develop a practical 

of larceny exists. At some stage in the existence of almost every state and 
territory, they have resorted to this mode of pimisliment, and in no instance 
has its infliction been held to be unconstitutional (''Garcia vs. the Terri- 
tory," First New Mexico Beports, 415-419). 

32 Bayard Taylor, Eldorado, 1850, I, 92; Shinn, Mining Camps, 179-180. 
See also William Taylor, California Life Illustrated, ed. of 1858, pp. 295- 
296; D. A. Shaw, Eldorado, 1900, pp. 139-144. 

33 The lynching was in January, 1849. The Mexicans were first tried 
and whipped for robbery, then tried by a crowd of half -intoxicated miners 
on fresh charges of robbery and attempted murder. They endeavored to 
defend themselves in Spanish, but no interpreter was found, and they were 
immediately hanged from the branches of a tree in the center of the camp. 
See Buffum, Six Months, 83-85 ; Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, 
1883, pp. 148, 208; John Carr, Pioneer Days, 1891, p. 65; H. D. Jerrett, 
California's El Dorado, 1915, pp. 48-49; L. A. Norton, Life and Adventures, 
1887, p. 293. Other instances of excessive punishment may be found in 
J. W. Harlan, California '46 to '88, 1888, p. 140. Anecdotes of trials 
extending over many years, are collected in Popular Tribunals, I, 142-178; 
Hittell, California, 272-309. 

34 See Royce, California, pp. 335-340. 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 79 

penology that should anticipate the advanced position of the 
present day, or even coincide with the most progressive standards 
of their own generation. It must be remembered also that the 
suppression of crime was their only aim, and their heav;^'-handed 
chastisement made life and property relatively safe, in spite of 
the presence in their midst of many men of the most desperate 

AVhile the reader must turn to the pages of other authors for 
detailed pictures of the miners' trials, still a general grasp of 
local conditions is essential at this point, in order to understand 
that the widespread appeal to popular tribunals in 1849 was not 
due to a defiance of authorized government on the part of the 
populace, but to an utter lack of any system of control in the 
mining regions. Indeed, Colonel Mason acknowledged with 
regret that he was unable to initiate any measures for the relief 
of the emergency. On November 24, 1848, he wrote to Wash- 
ington :^^ 

I cannot too strongly recommend a territorial government to be organ- 
ized in California at the earliest moment possible, if it has not already been 
done. There is no security here for life or property; and, unless a civil 
government is speedily organized, anarchy and confusion will arise, and 
murder, robbery, and all sorts of crime will be committed with impunity 
in the heterogeneous and mixed community that now fills California. 

Under such circumstances he was compelled to countenance the 
popular efforts to suppress crime, and when in December the 

35 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 648. When the military rule 
terminated in Santa Barbara it was necessary to release a convict, as there 
were no civil authorities and no jail (Archives, '^ Unbound Docs.," 10, 22, 
25). Captain J. L. Folsom, assistant quartermaster at San Francisco, wrote 
to Major General Jessup, Sept. 18, 1848: ''I know of no section of the 
United States Territories which more imperatively requires strong garrisons 
for the preservation of order. Without them I believe the whole country 
will sink into anarchy and the worst possible confusion" (ISTew York 
Journal of Commerce, 1848, Dec. 27, clipping in Francis Lieber 's California 
Scrap-Bool^, p. 7, a collection of clippings in the Bancroft Library). See 
also another letter from Folsom, in Robinson, California and Its Gold 
Begions, Appendix, pp. 134-137. ^- 

80 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

alcalde of San Jose hanged three convicted highwaymen with- 
out waiting for official approval of the sentence, the Governor 
wrote :^^ 

I knoAV, in this case, that necessity and circumstances, and. the violent 
outrages of late so frequently committed upon society, compelled the good 
citizens of the pueblo to rise and promptly make a public example of those 
robbers, for the sake of their own safety and that of society in general. The 
country affording no means — jails or prisons — by which the persons of these 
lawless men could have been secured and society protected, it is not much 
to be wondered that, after the many atrocities so recently committed upon 
unoffending citizens, the strict bounds of legal proceedings should have been 
a little overstepped. 

About the same time seven or more members of the Reed 
family were murdered at San Miguel, and three of the assailants 
were captured and taken to Santa Barbara for trial. Mason at 
once instructed the alcalde of that place to proceed to immediate 
trial and execution, and in reporting the two occurrences to 
Washington said :^^ 

You are perfectly aware that no competent civil courts exist- in this 
country, and that strictly speaking there is no legal power to execute the 
sentence of death; but the necessity of protecting their lives and property 
against the many lawless men at large in this country, compels the good 
citizens to take the law into their own hands. I shall not disapprove of 
the course that has been taken in this instance, and shall only endeavor to 
restrain the people, so far as to insure to every man charged with a capital 
crime an open and fair trial by a jury of his countrymen. 

Hittell felt that the resort to popular tribunals received an 
important impulse from the attitude Colonel Mason felt obliged 
to assume. "Under ordinary circumstances," he said, "nothing 
would have been more distasteful to Mason than this species of 

36 Cow^. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 691; alcalde's report of the 
case. Archives, ''Unbound Docs," 34, 340. See also Popular Tribunals, 
1, 68. 

37 Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 653. See also Colton, Three 
Years, 392; Harlan, California '46 to '48, pp. 134-136; H. I. Dally, Nar- 
rative, 1878, pp. 53-63, MS in the Bancroft Library. This was doubtless 
the crime mentioned by Senator Douglas as an awful result of refusing 
California the protection of adequate law {Cong. Globe., 30 Cong., 2 Sess., 
Appendix, pp. 275-276). 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 81 

lawless justice ; but, in the condition of affairs as they were, he 
refused to interfere or stay the course of the popular vengeance 
that alone held lawlessness in some sort of check. ' '^^ 

As the population increased the miners' meetings became 
more formal in their procedure. The winter of 1848 to 1849 
drove most men from the mountains, but a few Americans 
remained at the present site of Sonora, and a large party of 
Mexicans wintered at the same camp. It became necessary there 
to adopt some system more effective than impromptu meetings, 
and before the close of the year R. S. Ham was acting as alcalde.^^ 
Shinn stated that Ham was elected at a meeting of the American 
miners of Jamestown, but H. 0. Lang said that he assumed the 
office at Sonora without even a request from the inhabitants and 
was summarily deposed for James Frazier (Frasier or Fraser) 
when a case arose that needed greater ability. My father, 
Edwards C. Williams, went to Jamestown in the autumn of 1848, 
soon after he was mustered out of service with Stevenson's 
Regiment. He had not been there long when some excitement 
led the miners to desire an alcalde, and he was chosen for the 
position in compliment to a spectacular feat of horsemanship 
which he had performed when he arrived in camp. He resigned 
in two weeks, desiring to devote himself to business, but he always 
said that in the interval he wielded the power of life and death, 
although the only sentence he pronounced was a whipping im- 
posed on a thieving Mexican. He remembered the administration 
of Alcalde Frazier, but the notes made of his recollections do 
not record which preceded the other in office. 

When the cessation of the winter storms permitted the gen- 
eral resumption of mining, other camps followed the example 
set at Sonora, and elected alcaldes to administer the camp laws. 

ssHittell, California, II, 674. 

39 See Shinn, Mining Camps, 127; HL^ioru of Tuolumne County [by 
H. O. Lang], 1882, p. 13; Bancroft, California, VI, 4(39; Hittell, California, 
III, 224. 

82 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

From the specimens of later rules that have been preserved it 
seems probable that the miners' laws adopted after the early 
months of 1849 made little distinction between the civil and the 
criminal departments of camp justice, and that the alcaldes not 
only supervised the allotment of mining claims but preserved 
order and presided at trials/^ although there were still many 
occasions when impromptu courts, with hastily chosen judges, 
conducted trials and imposed sentences. 

These camp alcaldes were entirely independent of the super- 
vision which the military-civil governor still exercised over the 
coast towns, and their election may be considered as an effort 
to provide the miners with a working substitute for the machin- 
ery of organized government. Their recommendation to office 
usually consisted in some accent of personality that caught the 
attention of the men about them ; they derived their title from a 
Spanish inheritance, and their idea of law from their own 
inner consciousness; they were responsible to no central power, 
they were subordinated to no court of appeal, they were bound 
by no statute of legislation. Often they were well educated, 
often illiterate ; sometimes they were sturdily honest, sometimes 
shamelessly venal; many drank and cursed with unchastened 
exuberance, many were thoroughly decent in speech and habits ; 
some met untimely ends in drinking brawls and pistol duels, some 
spent long and honorable lives in the service of their adopted 
state. They were as far removed from the paternal dignity of 
the Spanish alcalde as they were from the well defined status 
of the American sheriff. Yet, because they perpetuated the title 
of the Mexican magistrate, there is a tendency to attach to the 
miners' alcalde a sort of retroactive significance, and to define in 
the terms of his arbitrarj^ despotism the functions of the alcalde 
of the pre-American regime. The exact position of the latter 
was confused hj conflicting statutes and shifting administrations, 

40 See the code of Jacksonville, January, 1850, Thomas Donaldson, The 
Public Domain, 1881, pp. 317-318. 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 83 

but his authority reached back through centuries of Spanish law 
and custom; his successor of the transition period was very 
different from the Spanish model, but he still derived authority 
from well established usage; but the earliest alcaldes of the 
mines were detached from constitutions and precedents of any 
compelling force. As Buchanan said of the ultimate foundation 
of all order in California, the authority of the miners' alcaldes 
rested solely on the consent of the governed, who recognized the 
necessity of some form of social control, and gave voluntary 
obedience to these extraordinary magistrates. 

Legal methods of the time may be illustrated as follows. 
In December, 1848, C. E. Pickett, a merchant at Sutter's Fort, 
killed a man in self-defense. Sam Brannan, who had a store 
at the same place, insisted that Pickett should be tried for mur- 
der. Wlien the first and second alcaldes and the sheriff resigned 
to avoid conducting the prosecution, Brannan called a mass meet- 
ing to elect new officers. Everyone who was suggested for alcalde 
declined and finally Brannan, himself, was chosen. The nom- 
ination for a prosecuting attorney likewise went through the 
circuit of the meeting, and was also finally accepted by Brannan. 
The prisoner then procured counsel, the sheriff pro tern, was 
ordered to bring drinks and cigars for all concerned, and argu- 
ments lasted far into the night, while Captain Sutter, one of 
the jury, wrapped in a Mexican serape, leaned against the wall 
fast asleep. Brannan, as prosecuting attorney, sunnned up the 
evidence against the accused in spite of the fact that Brannan, 
as alcalde, was judge at the trial. The jury disagreed, and the 
sheriff was charged to hold the prisoner, but, as he had neither 
jail nor irons, it was decided to admit Pickett to bail, which was 
promptly furnished by the jurymen. ''Thus ended the first 
criminal trial ever had at Sutter's Fort. At a subsequent and 
soberer trial Pickett was acquitted. "^^ 

^'^ History of Sacramento County, 124-125; noted in Archives, "Un- 
bound Docs.," 44. 

84 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Another story tells us that in the spring of 1849 two Span- 
iards on the Mokelumne quarreled over the ownership of a mule 
worth about $20, and availed themselves of the privileges of a 
jury trial. This resulted in fees amounting to $368, and a 
verdict that thej^ should draw lots for the disputed animal. The 
contestants cheerfully divided the costs and settled their quarrel 
by drawing straws.*- It is easy to understand why a pioneer 
should say :*^ 

From the 7th of July, 1846 .... the Government was a perfect non- 
descript — part military and part civil, and part no government at all. . . . 
The laws were most variant and variously conceived, the civil law, the Pike 
County code, the New York code, the common law, maritime law, the law on 
the plains, military law, and the miners' law, were all jumbled up together, 
and the Courts were as unique as the government and the laws; they were 
Americo-Mexican, military-civil, with a good degree of the vigilante. 

In spite of their shortcomings and their eccentricities, how- 
ever, the miners' laws and the miners' alcaldes prevented abso- 
lute anarchy in the camps. In the fall of 1848 the military 
authorities had anticipated a rapid increase in crime, but a 
year later the reports were much more cheerful. General Riley 
was then governor, and when he visited the mining region he was 
agreeably surprised to learn that order was preserved through- 
out almost the entire district. In each little settlement the miners 
had elected local alcaldes and constables, and sustained their 
official acts with loyalty and energy.** A few months later, 
General Persifor F. Smith, commandant of the Pacific Division 
of the Army, wrote to the Adjutant General :*^ 

42 Carson, Early Becollections, 27-28. 

43 Lawrence Archer, ' * Oration, ' ' in Society of California Pioneers, 
Twenty-second Anniversary, 1877, p. 12. 

44 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, p. 787. 

45 p^ r^ Tyson, Geology and Industrial Besources of Calif ornm, 1851, 
p. 79. General Smith was sometimes called the governor of California, 
but he took pains to state that he was not in charge of civil affairs. See 
Hittell, California, II, 676, 712; Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 
727, 767. 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 85 

I doubt whether any part of the United States has presented a com- 
munity in which there has [sic] been so few crimes and even disorders com- 
mitted. The public records of any of our largest cities will present more 
of these in one day, than have taken place in the whole of California since 
my arrival. . . . Many misrepresentations have been published on this point. 

The best known and most enthusiastic contemporary account 
of conditions in California was written by Bayard Taylor. His 
letters to the New York Tribune have been the basis of many 
secondary accounts of mining life, and were the source of some 
of Shinn's important generalizations.^^ Taylor spent some six 
weeks in the mines in the fall of 1849, and reported that all the 
larger and older camps had elected alcaldes and adopted regu- 
lations which were faithfully obeyed, while crime was checked 
by just and deliberate punishments.*^ It is quite possible that 
the places he visited were conducted as he described, but his 
inspection was hurried and superficial, and comparison with 
other observers leads one to think that he attributed to the entire 
extent of the mining region a good order which he found pre- 
vailing in the more accessible localities through which he traveled. 

In spite of the optimistic reports of Riley and Smith and 
Taylor, it is incontestable that violence reached an alarming 
degree during 1849. Popular tribunals such as the miners' 
courts had developed as an emergency resource for small pioneer 

46 Eldorado, 1850. Taylor made some very palpable errors, such as 
speaking of the Mexican ayuntamiento as a person ''who was commis- 
sioned," etc., etc. (I, 183), estimating the thousands of gold seekers from 
foreign parts as speedily outnumbering the American population (I, 100), 
and describing the harbor at Monterey as equal to any in California (I, 
138). His optimistic statements should therefore be received with caution 
(see Royce, California, pp. 303-304). 

47 Eldorado, I, 67 et seq. Henry De Groot said the miner of 1849 was 
far less disorderly than he was currently portrayed ("Six Months in '49," 
Overland Monthhj, XIV [1872], 316-329). E. G. Waite wrote: ''In all 
my personal experience in mining camps from 1849 to 1854 there was not 
a case of bloodshed, robbery, theft, or actual violence" ("Pioneer Mining 
in California," Century, XLII [1891], 141). "For several years after 
the settlement of Nevada [City], in a society where little law had influence 
except that of moral restraint, but two homicides occurred" (H. B. Thomp- 
son, Directory of the City of Nevada and Grass Valley, 1861, p. 8). 

86 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

communities. They inevitably proved their inherent weakness 
and defects when called upon to control a population that in 
numbers and disposition required the restraints imposed by a 
highly developed social organization. It was not alone the avow- 
edly outlaw element that needed to be curbed ; men whose former 
habits of life had been orderly and well regulated learned in 
California to consume liquor in enormous quantities, and to 
gamble for enormous stakes. Disappointed greed and drunken 
passion sped many a knife thrust and bullet, and the frenzy of 
a mad debauch turned many a peaceable miner into an irrespon- 
sible enemy of mankind. 

To attempt to gather and classify the accounts of California 
pioneers is like trying to classify the combinations of a kaleido- 
scope, for the components of the miners' society shifted and 
rearranged themselves and reflected the sunlight or caught the 
shadow with every turn of fortune's hand. We read, as it were 
in parallel columns, of bags of gold dust that lay safe in 
unguarded tents, and of merchandise piled high in the open 
streets; then of robbery and murder that went unnoticed in a 
community where a man might drop from sight without causing 
a ripple of comment among his self-absorbed neighbors. We 
read of the ''lex diggerorum" to which men bowed in the swift 
adjustment of the most valuable claims, and of the groups which 
elected and obeyed their alcaldes in spite of the temptations of 
selfish individualism. We find, on the other hand, that there 
were manj^ who opposed even the simplest forms of social 
restraint, and seized every opportunity to display their predatory 
instincts ; again we find that there were many more whose habits 
of self-control gave way under the excitement and hardships of 
their life and the wild dissipation that was their only relaxation 
after days of feverish toil. Men of this sort committed crimes, 
sometimes in cold-blooded deliberation, more often in momentary 
passion. But drinking and gambling, even robbery and murder, 

Vox Populi in the Mines of California 87 

were the accidents of an unorganized social condition, and 
beneath the confusion lay the force of a popular consent to the 
will of the majority, and to the essential spirit of law, as a solid 
foundation might lie beneath the disordered elements of an 
unfinished structure.*^ 

48 This spirit Avas apparent to a critic of Bret Harte, who said : ' ' Bret 
Harte's characters are amenable to no laws except the improvised laws of 
the camp; and the final arbiter is either the six-shooter or the rope of 
Judge Lynch. And yet underlying this apparent lawlessness there is that 
deep ' law-abidingness ' which the late Grant Allen despised as being the 
'Anglo-Saxon characteristic' To my mind, indeed, there is nothing so 
new, fresh, and piquant in the fiction of my time as Bret Harte 's pictures 
of the mixed race we call Anglo-Saxon finding itself right outside all 
the old sanctions, exercising nevertheless its own peculiar instinct for 
law-abidingness — of a kind" (Theodore Watts-Dunton, ''Bret Harte," 
Athenaeum, May 24, 1902, p. 659). 



The entire period of California history between 1848 and 
1856 has sometimes been characterized as the era of the Struggle 
for Order. Writers have depicted the forces of law and of law- 
lessness as pitted against each other in open conflict, while a large 
element in the population was negligent of all social obligations, 
indifferent to all moral issues, and intent only upon the accumu- 
lation of wealth. 

The significance of the years 1848 and 1849 may be much 
better expressed by calling them the era of the Struggle for 
Organization. In those years law was practically non-existent 
in much of the country, and the men who have been censured for 
neglecting the public welfare were actually deprived of the most 
elementary means through which their desires for order might 
find effective expression. Their response to the duties of citizen- 
ship under such unusual conditions should not be judged by 
their failure to regulate public morals, but rather by their 
demand for adequate laws, by their repeated efforts to formulate 
such laws, and by the final triumph of those efforts in the work 
of the constitutional convention of 1849. When the historian, 
the reminiscent pioneer, and the writer of western fiction say, 
as they do in varying phrases, ' ' There was no law in the land, ' ' 
they suggest a situation in which men took advantage of a tempo- 
rary disorganization of justice to repudiate the usual bonds of 
community life. But the impression thus created is superficial 
and it has been necessary to linger over primary sources of 
history in order to show that the real menace to order was a law- 
lacking condition of societj^ rather than a law-defiant attitude 
on the part of the people. 

The Struggle for Orgamzation 89 

The spontaneous mass meeting of the mining camps had 
saved the country from absolute anarchy, but the mass meeting 
does not continue to be an efficient organ of government when 
the social group becomes very large, or loses its homogeneity of 
composition. Under such circumstances, as Ross pointed out, 
the ties of fellowship dissolve, and the ''folk mass becomes 
a dangerous compound, ready to explode at a touch. "^ The 
need for some sort of representative s^^stem was usually recog- 
nized very quickly in the organization of the American frontier. 
It was especially necessary in the communities of California, 
where the preservation of order required a definite executive 
force to make effective the resolutions adopted by the popular 
assemblies. "Without such a force, each individual act of disci- 
pline depended upon popular initiative, and upon the momen- 
tary temper of the meeting or mob that was stirred to action. 
Even in the camps where alcaldes had been elected, the constant 
shifting of the population deprived them of any permanent* 
constituency to uphold them in carrying out a rule that had 
become unpopular. No lasting authority could be delegated to 
them until the community, as a whole, should be knit together 
by a bond of representative government. In the absence of such 
a bond even the political dexterity of the American citizen was 
powerless to stabilize social conditions. The large majority of 
the hundred thousand men in California desired that order 
should be established and that crime should be checked, but 
the will of this constructive majority could not be expressed 
in any organic law that would defend society from a minority 
that desired riot and license. On one day the peaceable miner 
might be a member of a congenial group, where life and property 
were protected by common consent. On the next, that group 

1 Eoss, Social Control, 52. See also A. B. Hart, in Cyclopedia of Ameri- 
can Government, 1914, III, 543; Cleveland, Organized Democracy, 37, 45; 
Eoosevelt, Winning of the West, I, 231-233; J. E. Young, ''Tlie LaAv as 
an Expression of Community Ideals,'' Yale Law Journal. XXVII (1917), 

90 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

might be invaded by large numbers of gamblers and rowdies, 
who would defy every restraint of public opinion, and would 
yield only to the sheer force of physical constraint. 

The continuance of this condition long after the increase in 
population demanded full civil equipment was not due to a law- 
less spirit inlierent in the people, but to the situation at Washing- 
ton. There sectional issues were asserting themselves with such 
vehemence that it was impossible to divorce the problem of terri- 
torial organization from the question of slavery, or to unite the 
hostile factions in establishing government in California and 
New Mexico. 

While matters were in this condition Senator Thomas H. 
Benton, father-in-law of Colonel John C. Fremont, assumed the 
role of advisor to the Californians, and made public a letter in 
which he urged them to meet in convention, adopt a cheap and 
simple government, and take care of themselves until Congress 
could provide for them.^ His message was not published in 
California until January, 1849, when it had a certain effect in 
stimulating the people towards the course he advocated, but in 
the interim it caused grave uneasiness to President Polk, who 
feared that it would incite the settlers on the Pacific Coast 
to form an independent government, under the leadership of 
Colonel Fremont.^ To counteract the influence of Benton's 
letter the Secretary of State sent a communication to the people 
of California by the hands of Mr. William Van Voorhies, newly 
appointed postal agent, and in it he made the first official 
announcement of the status of the de facto government as it has 
been explained in an earlier chapter.* Robert J. Walker, the 

2 Printed in the NeAV York Herald, 1848, Sept. 26, reprinted in Niles 
Begister, LXXIV, 1848, Oct. 18, p. 244. 

3 Benton had been ''malignantly hostile" to Polk since the outcome 
'96 'd 'v^/^ii passnosip si i8:^^8{ s^no:^naa; jo 'i'dd^d Gqj, 'ig "d 'ludns oag f 

•088-6S8 'efl-Of-I 'Z8T-9gT 'AI '0I6T 'fi-ima '^\0d '^ T ^ag -uoT^^nSipnt 
^s^^c^^T s^ ^^naptsai j oq; pasnojB J^:^^9[ siq; pu-e '{tsi'^itbui ^jnoo s^ ;noui8.ijj[ jo 

The Struggle for Organization 91 

secretary of the treasury, issued a circular at the same time, 
which announced that by the treaty with Mexico the Constitution 
of the United States was extended over California, and which 
gave instructions as to the collection of customs duties, but ignored 
the question of local government.^ Secretary Buchanan urged 
the residents of California to await Congressional action with 
patience, but President Polk realized that they could not be 
expected to wait indefinitely, and at the opening of Congress in 
December, 1848, he made another appeal for immediate terri- 
torial organization.^ He pointed out that the entire question 
of the extension of slavery might be left to local determination, 
as it was not imperative for Congress to legislate on the subject, 
and in any case the ultimate decision would rest with the citi- 
zens of the acquired regions when they finally adopted state 

On the same day Senator Stephen A. Douglas announced that 
he should presently introduce a measure bearing on the subject 
of organization. On December 11 he presented a bill to author- 
ize the immediate formation of a single state out of all the 
territory obtained from Mexico. As the area was far too large 
to form one commonwealth, Douglas later amended his bill to 
permit the people west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to organ- 
ize a state government at once, and the people of New IMexico 
to take the same action as soon as it should be justified by the 
increase of population.^ The amendment empowered the acting 
governor of California to set the date for a constitutional conven- 
tion, to call for an election of delegates, and to designate electoral 
districts ; furthermore, when the state constitution and state gov- 
ernment should have been established, and the president of the 

5 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 537, Doc. 1, p. 45. See also Magoon, Reports 
on the Law of Civil Government, 166-169. 

6 Eicliardson, Messages, IV, 639-642. 

^Cona. Glohe, 30 Cong., 2 Sess., 1, 21, 190-198, 381; Allen Johnson, 
Stephen A. Douglas, 1908, pp. 133-142; Polk, Diary, IV, 228-237; 254-257. 

92 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

United States notified of the fact, the acting governor was 
directed to issue a proclamation declaring "the said State of 
California to be one of the States of this Union, upon an equal 
footing with the original States in all respects whatever. ' ' This 
bill was designed to hasten the local decision as to the prohi- 
bition of slavery, and although it was finally lost through post- 
ponements its tenor should be understood, because it apparently 
had an influence on subsequent events.^ When Congress 
adjourned, March 3, 1849, it had done nothing for the relief 
of California, except to extend over it the revenue laws of the 
United States.^ 

Throughout the dissensions of this session President Polk 
often recorded in his diary his apprehension lest California 
might be lost to the Union by the formation of a separate govern- 
ment. He felt that such an outcome might not be unwelcome 
to the coming Whig administration, as a relief from the embar- 
rassments of the slavery conflict,^^ and on the very day of the 
inauguration of Zachary Taylor, Polk's apprehensions were 
further excited when the new President expressed the opinion 
that both California and Oregon were too distant to become 
members of the Union, and that it would be better for them 
to be permanently independent.^^ 

In less than a month President Taylor changed his point of 
view. Every despatch from the Coast confirmed the reports of 
the richness of the gold mines, enhanced the value of the new 
territory in the public estimation, and emphasized the need of 

8 See infra, p. 103. 

9U. S., Statutes at Large, IX, 400. See also Hittell, California, II, 
705-706; Polk, Diary, IV, 364-370. 

10 Polk, Biary, IV, 231-233, 293-298. Eleven members of the House of 
Representatives voted to return all the territory obtained by the treaty 
Avith Mexico except the region about San Francisco Bay {Cong. Globe, 30 
Cong., 2 Sess., 557-559). 

11 Polk, Diary, IV, 375-376. Taylor had disapproved of the Mexican 
War, see his Letters from the Battle -Fields, 1908, pp. 28, 37, 39, 75, 117. 

The Struggle for Organization 93 

providing an efficient government without waiting for another 
session of Congress. Early in April Thomas Butler King was 
appointed a special agent to the naval and military commanders 
in California, and was given instructions that distinctly- advised 
the creation of civil organization b}^ popular initiative. ^^ King 
had participated as a representative from Georgia in the last 
session of the House, and could inform the local authorities of 
the drift of opinion in Washington, but he did not reach San 
Francisco until June, by which time a movement for self -organ- 
ization had already met with general endorsement. 

The problems of California were not, by any means, limited 
to the preservation of order. There was constant difficulty in 
financing the civil department of the government, in enforcing 
revenue laws, and in regulating commercial affairs, but such 
questions do not require consideration here.^^ 

It must not be thought that during the discussions that dis- 
tracted Washington in the winter of 1848 to 1849, the builders 
of the future commonwealth of California were indifferent or 
tolerant towards the disorder and confusion which reigned about 
them. On the contrary, they were fully and unhappih^ conscious 
of it, and resented their situation with outspoken bitterness. The 
papers attributed the rapid increase of crime to the fact that 
societ}^ was ' ' held together without other law than had suggested 
itself in cases of emergency. "^^ The}' pointed out the grave 
dangers that would attend the continuance of h^nch law, which 

12 Cong. Doc^., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 9-11. King was later ap- 
pointed collector of the port of San Francisco. He Avas disliked in Califor- 
nia, but his Beport on California, 1850, was a valuable document (Cong. 
Docs., Ser. No. 577, Doc. 59; reprinted under the title, California : the 
Wonder of the Age, 1850). 

13 These subjects are discussed at length by Bancroft and Hittell, and 
more briefly by Thomas, Military Government, 218-228; and by W. C. 
Fankhauser, Financial History of California, 1913, pp. 109-116. An excel- 
lent summary was made in the Memorial to Congress (Browne, Debates, 
Appendix, pp. xiv-xix), and in King's report, California, 3-4. 

^'i Placer Times, 1849, May 5 %. 

94 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

was ' ' only worth}^ of barbarians, ' ' and was as likely to turn its 
destroying hands against the good as against the bad.^^ 

Colonel Mason also viewed the situation with profound 
anxiety. As early as November 24, 1848, he had written to 
"Washington :^^ ''The war being over, the soldiers nearly all 
deserted, and having now been from the States two years, I 
respectfully request to be ordered home." There was a grim 
acknowledgment of discouragement in the terse request, but the 
commandant did not abandon California to unchecked disorder 
even after he had asked to be relieved from his onerous position. 
On the evening of the very day on which he applied for a change 
of service he had an interview with E.' C. Kemble, editor of the 
California Star and Calif or nian,'^'^ and discussed with him the 
interests of the community. No record of their conference seems 
to have been preserved, but its tenor can be inferred from the 
following memorandum of a letter in the Archives of California, 
copied for the Bancroft collection '}^ 

1848 Nov. 25 Mont[erey] 
Govr Mason to E. C. Kemble, on organizing Govt for Cal. 
(a private letter) 
It appears I did not convey to you my exact meaning in the con- 
versation I had the pleasure to have with you last evening; what I 
wished to convey was this, that if on the receipt of the intelligence 
that Congress had adjournd last summer without organizing a terri- 
torial govt for Gala, that then the people should organize a temporary 
govt for themselves; that this intelligence (the adjournt of Congress) 
it was expected would be received by the St. Mary's now due and 
daily expected. 

Although this letter is not ordinarily cited as a document of 
particular significance, it had a prompt and important influence 

15 Alta, 1849, Jan. 4 ^/y. 

16 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 649. 

17 The Monterey Calif ornian had been transferred to San Francisco in 
May, 1847. It was merged with the California Star in November, 1848, and 
Kemble was the editor. At the opening of the new year the old papers 
were succeeded by the Alta California, owned by Kemble, Edward Gilbert, 
and G. 0. Hubbard. The paper was independent in politics, and opposed 
to the '' high-handed measures" of the military authorities (Kemble in 
Sacramento Union, 1858, Dec. 25 %). 

is Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 140-141. It Avas rumored that Mason 
and Commodore Jones had conferred on the subject of civil organization 
(Calif ornian, 1848, Oct. 21 i/i). 

The Struggle for Organization 95 

on public events, since the California Star and Calif or nian at 
once commenced a vigorous campaign for the formation of a 
provisional government. In the issue of December 2 the paper 
reported a particularlj^ shocking murder in the mining regions, 
and under the caption, "Shall we have a Civil Government T' 
the editor urged the immediate organization of some form of 
social order that would restrain crime. He asserted that : 

Our Military and Naval commandants recognize in the people a right — 
nay, enjoin it as a duty, to provide for themselves a government, recom- 
mending delay only until it be ascertained whether or not the Congi-ess 
of the United States, at its last session, produced the long-awaited organ- 

In the light of the letter from the governor, the reference to 
the militarj^ authorities becomes almost an official endorsement 
of the plan, but as Mason scrupulously refrained from any public 
utterance on the subject, his attitude towards organization has 
generally been interpreted as one of non-interference rather than 
of initiative.^^ 

In quick response to the call for action a meeting was held 
in San Jose on December 11, and a convention for organization 
was suggested for January, 1849. The plan was ratified in San 
Francisco, December 21 and 22, with the proviso that the date 
should be advanced to March 5. Other towais followed San 
Francisco's example, and when the proposed interval proved too 
brief to permit adequate representation from the South, it was 
again extended to May 6.-° Thus the movement for organization 
was well in progress before the letter of Senator Benton that 
had so agitated President Polk was published in the Alta Cali- 
fornia of January 11, 1849. The next issue of the paper, that 

19 See Cardinal Goodwin, EstahJisliment of State Government in Califor- 
nia, 1914, p. 71; Bancroft, California, VI, 266-267. 

20 Delegates were elected at Los Angeles, Monterey, San Jose, San Fran- 
cisco, Sacramento, Benieia, and Sonoma. See Bancroft, California, VI, 
266-271; Browne, Debates, Appendix, pp. xvi-xvii; Burnett, BecoUections. 

96 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of January 18, contained a sarcastic editorial expressing popular 
gratitude for the senator's parental solicitude, and characteriz- 
ing the communication as a well-meaning document which quite 
mistook the caliber of the community. The letter entrusted to 
Mr. Van Voorhies, which had been designed to forestall Benton 's, 
was printed without comment on March 15, although a copy of 
it was in the hands of the governor some time before that date.^^ 
These two letters are often cited as expressions of opposing 
views on the status of California. The "administration theory" 
upheld the survival of the Mexican laws, subject to change only 
by act of Congress, and administrated by the highest military 
officer in the district as was provided for in the Mexican system 
when a civil governor was not in active service. Benton con- 
curred with the administration in maintaining that the Mexican 
laws persisted until altered by the proper legislative authority, 
but he asserted that the American commanders had no power to 
administer those laws, and that in default of legitimate officials 
the people were left without government and had the right to 
provide organization for themselves. A third theory called the 
''Settler's theory" was held by some of the most prominent 
residents, who agreed with Benton that they had the right of self- 
government, but based that claim on the assumption that the 
Constitution of the United States had superseded the Mexican 
laws as soon as the treaty was ratified. They acknowledged that 
the power to legislate for the acquired territory was primarily 
vested in Congress, but felt that since the Congressional pre- 
rogative had not been exercised the people might temporarily 
assume the right of legislating for themselves. They contended, 
also, that even in case President Polk and Secretary Buchanan 
were correct in their theory, the de facto government of which 
they talked rested entirely upon the presumed consent of the 
governed, and the inhabitants of California were at liberty to 

21 Browne, Delates, 277. 

The Struggle for Organization 97 

withhold their consent, and to adopt what laws they saw fit. 
Some historians identify the ' ' Settlers ' theory" with the ' ' Benton 
theory," but as Benton opposed the doctrine of squatter sov- 
ereignty, and the ' ' transmigratory function of the constitution, ' ' 
the two points of view were in fundamental disagreement.-^ He 
was never acknowledged as a popular influence in California, and 
his "patronizing letter" was again scored in the Alta of July 19. 

The proposed convention was finally postponed until August 
that full reports of the session of Congress might be received. 
In view of the long delay the delegates resigned, recommending 
the election of new representatives who should be vested with 
full power to frame a state constitution and to submit it to the 
people for ratification. It is interesting to note that this sug- 
gestion as to state organization appeared in the same issue of 
the Alta California (March 22, 1849) that printed the bill which 
embodied Senator Douglas' first scheme for state government 
in the territory acquired from Mexico. 

Coincident with the impulse towards general provisional 
government there was an effort on the part of some of the larger 
communities to apply the method of self-organization to their own 
local problems, for the existing Mexican system proved more and 
more inadequate to the needs of the increasing population. 

This was particularly true of San Francisco, which had about 
two thousand inhabitants.^^ It will be remembered that a town 
council had been instituted by the alcalde and confirmed by 
Colonel Mason in July, 1847.-* That body had been empowered 

23 For the varying opinions on the status of California at this time, see 
J. F. Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, 
I (1893), 93 et seq.; T. H. Benton, Thirty Years' View, 1854r-1856, II, 713; 
Burnett, Recollections, 311-317, 327-334; Browne, Debates, 274-284; Rojce, 
California, 247-254; Hittell, California, II, 712; Hunt, ''Legal Status of 
California" as cited, 80-82. 

2S Annals, 219. 

2* See supra, p. 49. Even the alcaldes went to the mines in the summer 
of 1848. The council did not meet for five months, and special elections 
were called to fill the deserted posts (Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, 
593, 667; Armals, 205-207; Bancroft, California, V, 648-652). 

98 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

to serve Tintil the close of the following year. An election for 
new officers took place in December, 1848, but the results were 
challenged on the ground that unqualified electors had been 
allowed to vote, and the old council refused to give place to the 
council elect. A second election was called in January, and for 
a time the three separate bodies wrangled over the control o£ 
town affairs. The alcalde. Doctor T. M. Leavenworth, also became 
a storm center of approval and dislike, and the arbitrary system 
in vogue grew so intolerable that a group of leading men resolved 
to wait no longer for constitutional authority, but to formulate 
for themselves a more efficient municipal government. Early 
in February they called a mass meeting to consider the difficulties 
between the rival councils, and in response about five hundred 
citizens gathered on the Plaza and adopted a new scheme of 
organization.^^ They provided for the election of a legislative 
assembly with power to enact laws that harmonized with the 
Federal Constitution, and authorized three justices of the peace 
to try civil and criminal cases according to the common law as 
recognized in the United States. February 21 was set for the 
new election, and a committee was appointed to ask for the 
resignation of the members of the old contesting councils, who 
obligingly complied with the request. 

Bancroft said that the assembly brought to the front a very 
respectable body of men, full of reform projects. One of their 
first acts was to appoint a committee to wait upon the senior 
military and naval commanders, and to ask their approval of 
the proceedings. Papers were sent them with particulars of the 
public meetings and minutes of the first session of the assembly, 
and in a clear and dignified letter the committee recounted the 
difficulties and hardships entailed upon San Francisco by a 

25 See Annals, 208, 219-220; Burnett, Be collections, 306-310; Bancroft, 
California, VI, 209-211, 273; Moses, Establishment of Munioipal Govern- 
ment, 36-46. A. J. Ellis, A. J. Grayson, and E. A. Parker (Vigilantes of 
1851) were members of the Assembly. 

The Struggle for Organization 99 

continuance of the arbitrary rule of an irresponsible alcalde.^^ 
This document was one of the most interesting expositions of 
the popular mind at that period. It pointed out that nothing 
had been accomplished for civil improvement ; that even the old 
Mexican institutions had lapsed ; that the American alcaldes had 
never understood or administered Mexican laws and had simply 
decided questions according to their personal bias; that the 
people, hitherto patient in the hope of speedy relief, were no 
longer willing to give that consent which was the indispensable 
support of the de facto government, and that, in such a situation, 
they had the right to gather in their primary capacity and to 
create a government to serve until it might be superseded by 
competent authority. It was the old resort to the reassembling 
of social elements by agreement among a particular group which 
felt that its previous organization was deficient or inoperative. 
To the aggrieved citizens their position seemed unquestion- 
ably logical, but to the military commanders it was a menace 
to the integrity of the national authority and a possible step 
towards the establishment of the independent government decried 
by President Polk. In response to their petition for endorsement 
the citizens of San Francisco were therefore informed that as 
Congress alone had power to legislate for territories, the de facto 
government must persist until laws had been passed to replace 
it, and they were warned that ''(5onfusion and intricacy would 
inevitably result from establishing even the best government on 
a false basis. "-^ Undaunted by this disapproval, the assembly 
continued its work; held regular meetings, levied taxes, and 
enacted regulations.^^ The office of alcalde was abolished, and 
the incumbent was asked to transfer his records to the senior 
justice of the peace. Leavenworth, however, appealed to the 
militarv authorities, who advised him to retain possession of his 

26 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 728-735. 

27 Cong- Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 735-737. 

28 See The Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of 
the District of San Francisco, 1860. 

100 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

office and papers.-^ A little later formal charges of malfeasance 
were preferred against him, and the governor suspended him 
from duty pending an investigation.^^ Even this did not satisfy 
the legislative assembly, which was determined to assert its 
authority. On May 31 its sheriff forcibly seized the papers in 
the alcalde 's office. One of the books preserved in the recorder 's 
office in San Francisco breaks oif abruptly with the pencilled 
note in Leavenworth's handwriting and over his signature: 
"Here the Hounds entered the alcalde's office and seized the 
records. A. Patterson and others entering a [illegible] Tally 
ho." The interrupted entry was the copy of a deed dated 
April 6, 1849, but the intrusion referred to was probably the 
raid of May 31.^^ The next day the governor restored Leaven- 
worth to the full exercise of his duties.^- His order to that effect 
did not mention the raid, and the interval was very brief for 
communication with Monterey. A few days later, however, he 
called public attention to the assault on the alcalde, asked for 
assistance in recovering the archives, and designated the "body 
of men styling themselves the Legislative Assembly of San Fran- 
cisco" as an illegal organization which should not be supported 
b}^ law-abiding citizens.^^ 

^9 Minutes, 16; Coiig. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 727. 

30 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 758-760. Leavenworth ten- 
dered his resi^ation to take effect on May 15 (Arcliives, ''Unbound Does.," 
56). He complained that the movement was one against the military gov- 
ernment, and that the press was all on the side of the insurgents (letter. 
May 29, ihid., 64-66). Commodore Jones, Captain J. L. Folsom, and Rod- 
man N. Price stated that Leavenworth Avas so unpopular that he could not 
give satisfaction in anything (ibid., 55). 

31 See O. C. Coy, Guide to the County Archives of California, 1919, p. 
413; Ryan, Personal Adventures, II, 251-254; Buffum, Six Months, 114-119; 
copy of the order issued by Myron Norton, directing Sheriff J. C. Pulis to 
seize the papers (Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 320-321); Leavenworth's 
report of the raid (ibid., 319). A. A. Green mentioned the return of the 
town records to the alcalde after he was reinstated (Life and Adventures 
of a '47-er, 1878, p. 24, MS in the Bancroft Library). For the story of the 
Hounds, see infra, p. 105. 

32 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 771. 

33 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 773-774. 

The Struggle for Organization 101 

San Francisco was not the first nor the only community to 
experiment with local organization. When the residents upon 
the north side of the Bay of San Francisco met in Sonoma, 
February 5, 1849, for the purpose of electing delegates to the 
proposed constitutional convention, they adopted rules and reg- 
ulations for the control of the district until a permanent gov- 
ernment might be established. Nothing significant was accom- 
plished by this association, which dissolved when the members 
found that their course was disapproved by the authorities.^* 
Sacramento, as the most convenient point of departure for the 
northern mines, also felt the need of some government more 
effective than that of the alcaldes at Sutter's Fort. An initial 
meeting was held April 30, 1849, and subsequently a legislature 
of eleven members was elected, but it was afterwards decided 
that elaborate organization was unnecessary, and an alcalde and 
sheriff were chosen to preserve order in a district extending from 
the Coast Kange to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.^^ Had such 
district associations been countenanced by the governor, it is 
probable that they would have been formed in other localities, 
but he felt called upon to suppress them. In consequence each 
community was obliged to shift for itself. 

All through the early months of 1849, while the Californians 
were hoping for favorable news from Washington, Colonel Mason 
maintained his official aloofness from the movement towards 
organization. By April 13, when Brevet-Brigadier General Ben- 
net Riley arrived to relieve him, the scheme for provisional 
government had lapsed through postponement, although it was 
evident that resentment against existing conditions was fomenting 

s^Alta, 1849, March 1 %; Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, p. 749. 

35 The Placer Times, 1849, May 5, reported the organization. Burnett 
said the meeting was early in January (EecoUections, 294), but in the His- 
tory of Sacramento C&iinty, 47, it is stated that there was no form of govern- 
ment until the summer months. See also Sacramento Illustrated, Barber & 
Baker, publishers, 1855, p. 9; Bancroft, California, VI, 455. 

102 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

a spirit of aggressive self-assertion.^^ The two officers reviewed 
the situation in careful consultation. They were not yet definitely 
informed of the plans of the Whig cabinet, but they were prob- 
ably aware of the futile attempts made in the late session of 
Congress to pave the way towards state organization. They 
decided that it would be well for the new governor to summon a 
convention to draw up a state constitution as soon as he might 
learn that Congress had actually adjourned without passing any 
bills that would affect the situation.^^ 

The administration of Mason closed without the establish- 
ment of the government for which he had sincerely hoped, but 
as his aid, William T. Sherman, pointed out he left matters in 
California so disposed that a civil system was a matter of easy 
adjustment. For nearly two years he had held his slender reins 
of government over the turbulent forces in California, and pre- 
vented utter catastrophe and ruin. His task had been discour- 
aging and thankless, for his superiors had tacitly forbidden him 
to undertake any constructive work, while the people constantly 
blamed him for his failure to accomplish effective reforms. But 
he was not afraid of criticism, he was loyal to his idea of duty, 
and while all the world about him went mad over the pursuit 
of wealth, he never used his official position as a source of per- 

36 The general discontent occasionally gave rise to rumors of a movement 
for independence. General Persifor F. Smith said that on his trip to Cali- 
fornia he encountered ' ' some persons going out armed with Colonel Ben- 
ton 's letter to set up a government for themselves" {Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 
573, Doc. 17, p. 710). E. O. Crosby said that an independent republic might 
have been attempted if California had not organized and been admitted 
(MS Statement, 1878, pp. 52, 57). The attitude of the newspapers has been 
analyzed in a MS master's thesis. Sentiment in California for a Pacific 
Mepuhlic, 1843-1861, 1919, by Joseph Ellison, in the University of Califor- 
nia Library. See also Burnett, Recollections, 327-328; Bancroft, California, 
VI, 268 note 31; Hunt, ''Legal Status," as cited, 73; Dorothy Hull, 
''Movement in Oregon for the Establishment of a Pacific Coast Eepublic," 
Oregon Historical Society, Quarterly, XVII (1916), 177-200; H. E. Bolton, 
"Admission of California," University of California Chronicle, XV (1913), 

37 Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 748. 

The Struggle for Organization 103 

sonal profit. He left California shortl}' after his relief, and died 
of cholera, in St. Louis, in the summer of the same year.^^ 

On or about the first of June Governor Riley received positive 
information that Congress had adjourned without creating a 
government for California.^^ On June 3 he issued a procla- 
mation that summoned a constitutional convention to meet at 
Monterey on the first day of September, designated the electoral 
districts, the number of delegates from each, and the time and 
mode of their selection.*^ The measures proposed by Riley were 
so like those of the amended bill which Senator Douglas had 
offered in the Senate, that it seems safe to infer that they must 
have been formulated with exact knowledge and careful repro- 
duction of the methods which had been considered at Washing- 
ton.*^ The document antedated by a day the arrival in San 
Francisco of Thomas Butler King, who for some unexplained 
reason did not communicate with the governor until about the 
middle of the month. ^^ It is therefore improbable that the pres- 
ence of the President's special agent had any appreciable influ- 
ence on the plans for the convention. 

In this proclamation the governor also made public the first 
official summary of the Mexican system which had supposedly 
been in force from the time of the American occupation.*^ He 
announced that in view of the months that would elapse before 

3s See Bancroft, California, VI, 274; Hittell, CaUfornm, II, 677; Sher- 
man, Memoirs, I, 65. 

^^Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 748; S. H. Willey, Transition 
Period, 1901, p. 85. 

40 Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 776-780. 

41 Secretary of War Crawford "wrote General Smith, April 3, 1849, that 
want of information on California conditions precluded the possibility of 
special instructions, although no plan for an independent government could 
be sanctioned (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 549, Doc. 1, pp. 156-157). He wrote 
to Eiley in a similar tenor, June 26, saying, at the same time, that it was 
the right of the people to form a plan of government, Avhich might lead to 
their admission as a state (ibid., 160-161). 

42 King, California: tJic Wonder of the Age, 7. 

43 See supra, p. 24. 

104 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

any new government could be instituted, he would immediately 
put the native institutions into their ''full vigor." To accom- 
plish this purpose he ordered that when the people chose dele- 
gates for the constitutional convention they should also elect 
alcaldes, justices of the peace, and town councilmen, wherever 
such officials were not already installed, and should, in addition, 
elect the judges for the superior court, and the prefects and 
sub-prefects authorized by the Mexican statutes. 

The call for a convention aroused unexpected opposition. 
Some of the advocates of immediate organization protested that 
the governor had no business to infringe upon their right of self- 
government, even to the extent of setting a date for the convention, 
or allotting the number of delegates. This feeling was most loudly 
expressed in San Francisco, where there was much resentment 
over Riley's arraignment of the legislative assembly and his 
reinstatement of Alcalde Leavenworth ; but after some discus- 
sion it was decided to accede to his suggestions, and to join in 
the general movement towards organization.** 

Early in July the members of the legislative assembh^ 
conscious of the governor's disapproval of their position, asked 
for an expression of popular opinion, and called for an election 
which should confirm or withdraw the authority that had been 
delegated to them. When this was held one hundred and sixty- 
seven votes were cast in their favor, and seven against them. 
The support was considered so inadequate that the assembly 
dissolved, leaving Leavenworth in possession of the field.*^ The 
Annals of San Francisco, published in 1855, remarked of this 
situation :*^ 

44 See Burnett, Becollections, 319-326; Hittell, Calif (niiia, II, 713-718; 
Bancroft, California, VI, 277-280; Willey, Transition Period, 86-89; F. J. 
Lippitt, ''The California Boundary Question in 1849," Century, XL 
(1890), 795. 

45 Annals, 223 ; Bancroft, California, VI, 211 note. Leavenworth again 
tendered his resignation on June 4 {Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 228; 
Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 774). 

46 A7inals, p. 223. 

The Struggle for Organization 105 

These various meetings and other proceedings narrated may possess little 
interest for the present inhabitants of San Francisco; but they certainly 
much excited those who dwelt in the town at the time of their occurrence. 

And, indeed, for every student of California history W\q\ should 
have a profound interest as showing the strength of the current 
conviction that temporary organizations, adopted by the consent 
of the men immediately concerned, were legitimate forms of gov- 
ernment in crises where other systems were non-existent or 

Another illustration of the spirit which appealed to popular 
initiative in public affairs is furnished by the episode of the 
suppression of the ''Hounds," a company of San Francisco des- 
peradoes who terrorized the city in the summer of 1849. More 
than one writer on the period noted that the adventure of the 
Mexican War had enlisted among the New York Volunteers num- 
bers of rowdies, who flocked to the mines as soon as they were 
discharged, and there behaved so badly that in many places they 
were driven out of camp. Drifting back to San Francisco, they 
formed the nucleus of a criminal "gang," which adopted a sem- 
blance of military discipline, formulated rules, elected officers, 
and established so-called headquarters in a large tent known as 
Tammany Hall.*^ They often paraded the streets with music 
and banners, and their commissary was provisioned by raids 
upon stores and restaurants, which were forced to supply their 
demands and ''charge it to the Hounds," as the marauders 
marched away with insolent laughter. Later they adopted the 
more respectable name of the San Francisco Society of Regula- 
tors, and Bancroft stated that Alcalde Leavenworth employed 

4r See Popular TrihunaJs, I, 76-102; Annals, 553-561. Stanislaus 
Grabowski, a German author with a penchant for historical novels, used the 
incident for the theme of Die Eegulatoren von San Francisco, a story which 
showed some familiarity with the circumstances, but no personal acquaint- 
ance Avith San Francisco. It was also described in ' ' La Calif ornie dans les 
derniers mois de 1849, ' ' an article by Patrice Dillon, in the Berue des deux 
mondes, nouvelle periode, V (1850), 205-206. 

106 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

some of them in "carrying out the ends of justice."*^ Be that 
as it may, they went far beyond any official sanction, and took 
advantage of the anti-alien sentiment of the community to make 
brutal attacks upon the foreigners of Latin American origin, 
many of whom lived under wretched and vicious conditions in 
the quarter known as Little Chili. 

Hall McAllister, a distinguished lawyer of later days, has 
related the story in a dictation made at Bancroft's request. His 
account was in substantial agreement with that in the Annals of 
San Francisco, and with other original sources. He said :*^ 

During the months of June and July '49 there existed in San Francisco 
a band of men calling themselves ''The Hounds," consisting principally of 
the refuse of Col. Stevenson's regiment. The leader of this band of men 
was named Samuel Eoberts. They committed various outrages, particularly 
during the month of July. On one Sunday they were especially violent, 
going about and robbing all the Chilenos they could find. . . . They . . . beat 
them, and shot one of them very badly in the body. . . . Several of them, 
mounted on horseback, chased these Chilenos through the city and up Tele- 
graph Hill, shooting at them as they ran. 

On Monday afternoon, the following day, Sam Brannan, Frank Ward, 
A. J. Ellis, Sam Ward, and various others formed a meeting upon the 
Plaza, at which Sam Brannan and Frank Ward made speeches, from the 
top of the small buildings then existing at the S.W. Corner of Kearny and 
Washington Sts. After the speeches, an organization was immediately 
had, and Captain [W. E. Spofford] was appointed Chief Marshal; and 
A. J. Ellis, Hall McAllister, F. J. Lippitt and others Avere appointed Cap- 
tains, to organize a force to arrest these Hounds. They immediately went 
to work that afternoon and secured quite a number [nineteen] of them, 
among whom were Samuel Roberts, the leader of the band, who was arrested 
on board a schooner in the harbor. ... A number of them were taken at their 
rendezvous, which was then situated just where Commercial comes into 
Kearney St. now, in a tent which they had there. . . . After the prisoners 

48 Popular Tribunals, I, 78. J. H. Brown wrote that the Regulators 
originated with a group of about ten men who banded themselves together 
for the purpose of returning runaway sailors to their vessels {Eeminiscences, 
[78]). Sam Roberts, the leader, had been a member of Stevenson's Regi- 
ment (Clark, First Ecgiment of New Yorlc Volunteers, 37). At one time 
the alcalde of San Francisco had employed him to administer public corporal 
punishment to a mutinous sailor {Alta, 1849, Aug. 9 %). 

49 Vigilance Committees — Miscellayiy, 1877, pp. 14-16. 

The Struggle for Organization 107 

were secured, there was a meeting of all the citizens, and a Court was organ- 
ized, the Judges of Avhich were Leavenworth, the Alcalde, Dr. William M. 
Gwin and James C. Ward. Horace Hawes, Francis J. Lippitt and Hall 
McAllister were appointed attorneys to prosecute these men before this 
court. A Grand Jury was called, and they were regularly indicted, and 
charged with a conspiracy, to commit murder, robbery, etc. They were tried 
before these three judges and a jury, in a small building called the Court 
House, which was situated on the Plaza at the S. W. corner of what is now 
Portsmouth Square. . . . The trials of the several men occupied many days, 
that of Roberts taking place first, and were conducted according to the 
ordinary legal form, witnesses being called on each side. The cases were 
summed up on behalf of the prosecution by Hawes and McAllister, and on 
the part of the defendants by [P.] Barry and [Myron] Norton. [Eight 
of] the men were convicted. This organization of the people to put down 
these '' Hounds" was called the Law and Order party. After the con- 
viction of these men it became an important question hoAv they should be 
punished. Some were for having them hung, others for having them 
whipped upon the public Plaza and banished, and others simply for having 
them banished and given to understand that if they returned they would 
be executed. That was the final disposition, and they Avere banished, with 
this warning. That ended the ''Hounds" riot. 

The outcome of the trials was characteristic of the time and 
place. Popular sentiment was contented with a reasonable num- 
ber of convictions, and with the scattering of the gang. Since 
there was no jail in which sentences of imprisonment could be 
served, the actual punishment of the offenders seemed to be of 
little importance in the public mind.^^ There were, however, 
some permanent effects, for the impromptu military patrol was 
the initial step in the organization of a regular company of 
militia.^^ More than this, McAllister's refer enc to a ''law and 

50 The convicted men were confined for a time on board vessels in the 
naval service. See O. T. Shuck, Bench and Bar in Calif oriiia. ed. of 1889, 
p. 98; California Illustrated [by J. M. Letts], 1852, p. 53; S. C. Upham, 
Notes of a Voyage to California, 1878, p. 222 ; MSS in the Bancroft Library 
of Isaac Bluxome, Jr., Statement [1877?], 5, and of W. M. G^^-in, Memoirs, 
1878, p. 8. 

51 Isaac Bluxome, Jr., said: ''After the conviction of some of the hounds, 
the gang was broken up, and the four companies were disbanded, and the 
California Guard was organized on the 27th of July, 1849 (MS Statement, 
6). The list of members (Ann-als, 703), included the following men who 
became Vigilantes of 1851: H. M. Naglee, W. H. Tillinghast, W. D. M. 

108 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

order party" was confirmed by another participant, who said 
that the captains of the patrol acted as a nominating committee 
in the August election, and virtually secured the return of a 
reform ticket, and that the whole affair was the beginning of 
the vigilance committees of California.^^ In view of that state- 
ment it is interesting to note that at least eleven of those who 
were prominent in the trial became members of the Committee 
of Vigilance of ISSl.^^ 

The story of the Hounds is important in this narrative not 
alone because of the personnel of the actors. It shows conclu- 
sively that the mass meetings and popular tribunals which were 
tolerated by necessity in the mining camps, had been widely 
accepted as legitimate means of social discipline, and that the 
men of San Francisco naturally resorted to them as an emergency 
organ of government. So strong was the force of the popular 
impulse that it obliged the alcalde to accept an invasion of his 
prerogative, and to conduct the trial in conference with the 
popularly appointed assistants.^* The people did not organize 
this extra-legal tribunal in any spirit of defiance of the ordinary 
safeguards of justice. On the contrary, they introduced for the 

Howard, W. L. Hobson, H. F. Teschemacher, A. J. Ellis, J. C. Ward, A. G. 
Eandall, Benjamin Eeynolds, E. A. King. The Constitution a7id By-Laws 
of the First California Guard was printed in 1850. This was not the first 
militia of San Francisco (see J. H. Brown, Beminiscenoes [36-38] ; Ban- 
croft, California, VI, 263 note 19). 

52 ' < We detailed companies with captains to patrol and arrest these 
rioters. . . . The companies were officered by the principal citizens. That 
was the commencement of the Vigilance Committee of California. After 
the affair of ' ' the Hounds, ' ' the companies disbanded. Leavenworth was 
Alcalde, and acted as judge in the trial of the Hounds. He was giving 
away the town lands, and we had a great deal of trouble on that account. 
We petitioned the Governor to call an election for our protection. The 
captains of the companies acted as a nominating committee, and their ticket 
was elected almost unanimously" (C. V. Gillespie, MS Statement, 1875, 
pp. 5-6.) 

53 Isaac Bluxome, Jr., Samuel Brannan, J. R. Curtis, A. J. Ellis, V. J. 
Fourgeaud, C. V. Gillespie, W. D. M. Howard, Benjamin Reynolds, Fred- 
erick Teschemacher, J. C. Ward, Hiram Webb (Annals, 558-559). 

54 See Annals, 557-558; Shuck, Bench and Bar, 98. 

The Struggle for Organization 109 

occasion the elaborate accessories of grand jury, associate judges, 
and counsel for prosecution and for defense, and they chose for 
the trial-jur}^ men of established credit and importance. Even the 
two hundred and thirty' volunteer constables ranged themselves 
from the start in ordered companies under the authority of 
officers, and conducted the search for the criminals without riot 
or undue violence. ^^ 

While the residents of San Francisco were settling their 
domestic concerns during the exciting summer of 1849, the com- 
munity at large made ready for the approaching election. ^^ Par- 
ties of speakers visited the mining regions to arouse interest in the 
convention, and Thomas Butler King did what he could to for- 
ward the movement. He stated afterwards that so far as he 
was informed, party and sectional affiliations did not figure in 
the selection of delegates, and that the only object seemed to be 
to find competent men who were willing to make the requisite 
sacrifice of time. Bayard Taylor confirmed that statement, but 
noted that in Sacramento and San Francisco political interests 
might have been influential.^^ 

The elections took place on or near August 1. Any American 
citizen of twenty-one was allowed to vote, no matter how recent 
his arrival in California, and travelers paused en route to the 
mines to deposit their ballots at some chance polling place or in 
boxes nailed to convenient trees.^^ The returns showed that all 

55 Ernest Frignet called the trial an ' * Example memorable, et que la 
Calif ornie a donne plus d'une fois, de ce que pent le plus petit effort des 
honnetes gens eontre le desordre le mieux organise et les malfacteurs les 
plus audacieux" {La Calif orme, 1866, p. 125). 

56 See Bancroft, California, VI, 279-283. Willey gave an interesting 
description of a typical meeting for the selection of delegates (Transition 
Period, 96). 

57 King, California: the Wonder of the Age, 7; Taylor, Eldorado, I, 

5s See L. B. Patterson, Twelve Years in the Mines, 1862, p. 35 ; Histori/ 
of Placer County, 1882, p. 93; MS Statement of E. O. Crosby, prefect of 
the Sacramento district, pp. 52-56. 

110 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the districts had chosen delegates, who prepared to meet in Mon- 
terey at the time appointed. 

The attempt to put into full vigor the surviving Mexican law 
also met with a general response, and local officers were elected 
for the positions named in the governor's proclamation. This 
effected certain changes in the organization of California. Dis- 
trict prefects were chosen as directed by the governor, who 
officially confirmed their selection.^^ Alcaldes were elected 
wherever vacancies existed, and Riley commissioned one in each 
district to act as a judge of first instance. The election of judges 
of the superior tribunal at last created a court of appeal from 
the alcaldes ' courts, but fees were so extortionate that contestants 
were not quick to take advantage of the privilege. ^° 

The men who held office in the autumn of 1849 had the benefit 
of Halleck's Digest of the laws of 1837, which was put into 
circulation about this time.^^ Here, at last, was the complete 
scheme of organization which had, in theory, dominated Califor- 
nia for three years, but which had been shorn in practice of all 
functions save those pertaining to the offices of the governor, his 
secretary, and the alcaldes. If promulgated earlier, it would 
have given the people a clearer realization of their subordination 
to a central authority, but that step had not been taken because 
of the constant anticipation that Congresisonal action would 
supersede the temporary government. 

As soon as the alcaldes' courts were established on a more 
efficient basis they were fairly overwhelmed with cases. To 
relieve their congestion General Riley appointed additional 
judges of first instance, with civil jurisdiction only, for some 

59 Commissions for the judges, prefects, and first alcaldes in Cong. 
Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 797, 806-808, 811, 820-830, 865. Later 
appointments in Ser. No. 561, Doc. 52, pp. 22-39. 

CO Biimett, Becollcctions, 346. 

61 ''The Laws of California" were advertised in the Alta, 1849, Sept. 20 
•%. Eeprinted in BroAvne, Debates, Appendix, pp. xxiv-xl. 

The Struggle for Organization 1.11 

of the larger towns. *^- Among these judges was the eccentric 
William B. Almond, of San Francisco, who rose from the humble 
position of peanut vender on the public streets, to the tip-tilted 
chair of his crowded court room, where suits involving thousands 
of dollars were decided in half -hour hearings, with swift exchange 
of the ''ounce of dust" that constituted his invariable fee. With 
his feet on the mantel, and his eyes and hands occupied with 
details of his toilet, he listened to counsel only so long as it took 
him to grasp the sense of the case, then pronounced a judgment 
from which immediate appeal was seldom taken, although there 
was a quick resort to the relief afforded by the establishment of 
the Supreme Court in 1850.^^ 

After this period of reorganization there was somewhat closer 
touch between the larger mining camps and the central author- 
ity.'^* More effort was made in the new towns to keep records 
of proceedings, and men who had, periiaps, served as alcaldes 
in previous months, left as their earliest documents papers signed 
subsequent to the first of August, 1849. The dearth of public 
records from which to reconstruct the early history of California 
confronts every student of that period with an inexorable barrier. 
Since the military-civil governors made few, if any, appointments 
in the mining regions prior to August, 1849, they conducted 
little correspondence which referred to affairs in the mountains. 

62 Appointments, Cong. Bobs., Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, pp. 832, 867, 871. 

63 Amusing* tales of Judge Almond are told in Hittell, California, II, 
778-779, III, 223, 248; Burnett, Becollections, 343; Bancroft, California 
Inter Pocula, 1888, pp. 591-600; Annals, pp. 238-241. He sometimes said: 
''Gentlemen, I don't know just what the law of this case is, bitt I know 
what it ought to be (Memoirs of Cornelius Cole, 1908, p. 82). He allowed 
thirty minutes, to each case, and during the winter rains jurors were often 
"corralled in the back yard" in default of a jury room, a situation which 
prompted them to make quick decisions (E. W. McKinstry, ''Oration," in 
Society of California Pioneers, Twenty-first Anniversary, 1871, p. 7). The 
First California Reports included many cases appealed from his court. 

64 Correspondence with alcaldes of Sonora Camp, Mormon Camp, and Wil- 
low Bar, September to November, 1849, in Archives, "Unbound Docs.," 13, 
50, 57; Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 561, Doc. 52, pp. 29-32; see also infra, p. 138 
note. 5. 

112 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Each of the early camps was an independent body, unrelated to 
other bodies outside its immediate neighborhood, and without 
occasion for written communication of an official character. The 
domestic concerns of the camps were not matters of record except 
in the case of the regulations governing mining rights and the 
claims made thereunder, and whatever may have been written, 
much of it has been destroyed in the frequent fires that have 
swept the little towns.^^ 

The August election gave the citizens of San Francisco an 
opportunity to make desirable reforms in their town government. 
John W. Geary, who had arrived in March to serve as the 
first postmaster of San Francisco, was chosen first alcalde, and 
several of the men who had taken part in the trial of the Hounds 
were elected to office.^^ At the initial meeting of the new 
ayuntanuento^'^ Geary presented an excellent address on the 
municipal situation, and described as follows the confusion that 
had arisen from the lack of civic equipment :^^ 

At this time we are without a dollar in the public treasury, and it is 
to be feared the city is greatly in debt. You have neither an office for 
your magistrate, nor any other public edifice. You are without a single 
police officer or watchman, and have not the means of confining a prisoner 
for an hour; neither have you a place to shelter, while living, sick and 
unfortunate strangers who may be cast upon our shores, or to bury them 
when dead. Public improvements are unknown in San Francisco. In short, 
you are without a single requisite necessary for the promotion of prosperity, 
for the protection of property, or for the maintenance of order. 

65 Some valuable pre-statehood records are mentioned in Coy, Guide to 
the County Archives, pp. 50-51. 
ee Annals, 228-229. 

67 Eiley revived the use of the Spanish term, which had not been em- 
ployed by Mason when he instituted the San Francisco council in 1847. 
Eiley also encouraged the election of ayuiitamientos in all toAvns entitled 
to such bodies (see Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 761-769; Ser. 
No. 561, Doc. 52, p. 27). 

68 See Annals, 229-234. The proceedings of the ayuntamiento were 
printed in separate parts, 1849-1850, and reprinted with the Minutes of the 
. . . Legislative Assembly, 1860, pp. 47-296. 

The Struggle for Orgamzation 113 

He recommended that revenue should be raised by taxes and 
commercial licenses, and expressed his conviction that such a 
procedure would be approved by the governor, and by the first 
legislature that should assemble after permanent organization 
should be effected. On August 27 an ordinance was passed for 
raising a revenue according to his suggestions. 

The work accomplished by this ayuntamiento was creditable 
and progressive. An old vessel, the Euphemia, was purchased 
and equipped to serve as a jail; a police force of thirty was 
organized, and order was preserved in the city with fair success.^^ 
Improvements were begun on the wharves and on the muddy 
thoroughfares ; and in recognition of the services of the members 
of the council, the city surveyor, W. M. Eddy, assigned their 
names to the streets which were laid out during their term of 
office. '° Bancroft commended this administration, and said that 
at its close a balance of $40,000 was left in the treasury, and that 
no blots stained the public character of the councilmen.'^ 

On the third of September the constitutional convention at 
Monterey organized for business. Particulars of its work and 
of the constitution it framed need only our briefest consideration, 
since they have already been made the subject of special study.'^^ 
There were forty-eight delegates :'^ Doctor Robert Semple, of 

69 A list of crimes, Sept. 4, 1849, to March 26, 1850, was given in the 
Alta, 1850, May 2 %. The total arrests were 741, and included 170 cases 
of larceny, 70 of assault and battery, 10 attempted murders and 4 actual 
homicides. The summary indicated that violence in the city was not of 
the alarming proportions sometimes attributed to the days of '49. 

70 San Francisco Call, 1883, July 30 %. 
'1 Bancroft, California, VI, 213-215. 

T2 See Bancroft, Calif ornm, VI, 284-303; Hittell, California, II, 756- 
774; Eoyce, California, 259-270; Goodwin, Establishment of State Gov- 
ernment; D. R. Hunt, Genesis of California's First Constitution, 1895; F. N. 
Thorpe, Constitutional History of the American People, 1898, II, 287-394; 
Browne, Eeport of the Debates in, the Convention, 1850 ; Willey, Transition 
Period, 93-126; G. H. Fitch, ''How California Came into the Union," 
Century, XL (1890), pp. 775-792. 

73 See BroAvne, Debates, 478; Goodwin, Establishment of State Govern- 
ment, 81-85. 

114 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Benicia, one of the leaders in the Bear Flag* revolt, acted as 
president, and he well expressed the task that lay before them 
when he said they had assembled to ''make something out of 
nothing', to construct organization and form out of chaos. ' '' * 

The convention was cautious in experimenting- with original 
measures, and the debates show that the constitutions of several 
older states were consulted. That of Iowa served, in many 
respects, for the model finall}^ adopted, although much was bor- 
rowed from the constitution of New York. Sentiment in Cali- 
fornia was so strong* against permitting slavery that there was 
no dissent to the resolution that prohibited it within the limits 
of the state. '^^ Nevertheless the national conflict on the subject 
made itself apparent in a debate on a proposition to exclude free 
Negroes, and in the discussion of the demarkation of the eastern 
boundary, as the latter question had an important bearing on 
a future subdivision with the possibility of slave territory in a 
southern area. In the end, the exclusion of free Negroes was 
defeated, and the present boundary was adopted as the one least 
likely to lead to friction and delay when Congress should act on 
the application for admission to the Union. 

General provisions were made for the legislative, executive, 
and judicial departments of the state, for the organization of 
counties, and for the establishment of courts, but wide dis- 
cretionary powers were allowed to the coming legislature. In 
order to prevent inconvenience to the public service it was 
provided that no office should be ''superseded, nor the law 
relative to the duties of the several officers changed, until the 
entering into office of the new officers to be appointed under this 

74 Browne, Tteltatcs, 23. 

75 In spite of this prohibition some slaves were imported into the state 
(see C. A. Duniway, ''Slavery in California after 1848,'' American His- 
torical Association, Report, 1905, I, 243-248). 

76 Schedule, Section 3. Browne, Debates, Appendix, p. xii. 

The Struggle for Organization 115 

While the details of the constitution, like the details of the 
miners' laws, are not of importance here, there is great sig- 
nificance in the fact that in spite of the rapid creation of this 
framework of government it was eminently efficient and con- 
sistently liberal in its provisions. Hermann von Hoist wrote of 
this accomplishment :'^ 

And the population of California, swept together from all the states 
of tho Union, gave the most magnificent illustration of the wonderful 
capacity of this people for self-government, by creating for themselves, of 
their o^vn motion, and with the utmost coolness and deliberation, a political 
organization which proved itself viable under conditions to which many an 
old and firmly established government would have succumbed. 

The convention completed its labors on the afternoon of 
October 13. In suppressed excitement the delegates proceeded 
to affix their signatures to the completed instrument, and, as 
they wrote, the cannon of the fort broke forth in a national 
salute, announcing by its thirty-one guns that a new state pre- 
sented her sons for citizenship in the Federal Union. 

77 Hermann von Hoist, Constitutional and Political History of the United 
States, III (1881), 463. Hittell called the constitution ''one of the best, if 
not the very best, of all the thirty-one that then existed {Calif oriim, II, 



A month after the constitution was signed at Monterey 
it was ratified by the people.^ At the same time an election was 
held for members of the first legislature and for representatives 
in Congress; Peter H. Burnett^ was chosen as governor, and 
John McDougal as lieutenant governor. For a second time party 
politics were disregarded in a state election, as most of the can- 
didates made independent campaigns, and in many places they 
were practically unknown to their constituents.^ 

The first legislature assembled in San Jose on December 15, 
1849. On December 20 Burnett was installed as governor, and 
General Riley issued his last proclamation, congratulating the 
people on the organization of their state government, and resign- 
ing the administration of civil affairs into the hands of the new 

1 See Goodwin, Establishment of State Government, 251-254. 

2 Burnett had served on the Oregon legislative committee of 1844. He 
arrived in California in October, 1848, quickly assumed a leading position 
in Sacramento, and was later a member of the legislative assembly of San 
Francisco. He was prominent in the movement for state organization, and 
was elected judge of the superior court in August, 1849. 

3 Bayard Taylor gave an amusing account of the haphazard manner in 
which the miners were forced ' ' to go it blind ' ' in the choice of candidates 
(Eldorado, II, 6-8). See also A. J. McCall, Piclc and Pan, 1883, p. 35; 
Lyman, Journal of a Voyage to California, 129. It is usually stated that 
the first party organization in California was a Democratic gathering in 
San Francisco, Oct. 25 (Bancroft, California, VI, 304-305; Hittell, Califor- 
nia, IV, 51-53 ; W. J. Davis, History of Political Conventions in California, 
1849-1892, 1893, p. 1). A. J. Ne^\^nan has called attention to a report in 
the Pacific News, Oct. 25 %_3, of a meeting in Portsmouth Square, Oct. 23, 
in the interests of T. Butler King, as a candidate for the United States 
Senate (Formation of the First Political Parties in California, 1918, MS 
master's thesis. University of California Library, Department of History). 

4 See Browne, Debates, Appendix, p. xlvi. The constitutional convention 
had decided that the state government should go into operation, without 
waiting for Congressional approval (ibid., 274-288). Eiley doubted the 

The Fabrioaiion of the Commonwealth 117 

From that day the men of California took charge of their 
own destinies, and shaped their political institutions according 
to their own preferences. They clung closely to the precedents 
with which they were familiar. They transplanted to the vast 
and sparsely populated area of California the usual decentralized 
system of local organization. They replaced the civil law of 
Mexico by the English common law as received and modified in 
the United States, and they instituted the courts to which they 
had been accustomed elsewhere.^ 

All this new machinery of government could not be set in 
motion overnight. It was April or May of 1850 before the larger 
towns were incorporated and the counties and townships equipped 
with the necessary officials.^ In the meantime conditions in the 
state at large were even more confused than before. The alcaldes 
elected under the pre-statehood regime continued their legal 
services until their places could be filled by the new magistrates, 
but their unskilled interpretation of law and their arbitrary 
methods caused greater and greater complaint as the impatient 
citizens awaited the establishment of American institutions. 

There was an increasing need for efficient officers in the 
mining regions where large investments of capital began to 
supersede the temporary claims of the individual miner. As 
the surface richness was skimmed from the placers, cradles or 
rockers took the place of the pan in which at first each miner 
washed out his own portion of gravel. Since sucli machines 

legality of such a course, but acceded to the wishes of the people. For 
comment on the situation, see Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 279- 
282, 819; Richardson, Messages, V, 27; California Senate, Journal, 1850, 
pp. 32-33; Goodwin, Estahlishment of State Government, 220-223; Eod- 
man, History of the Bench and Bar of Southern California, 21; von Hoist, 
Constitutional History, III, 518. 

5 The work of the first legislature was described and commended by 
Bancroft, California, VI, 308-336; Hittell, California; II, 791-807; Good- 
win, Estahlishment of State Government, chaps. 12-17. 

6 County officers were elected the first Monday in April (California, 
Statutes, 1850, chap. 24, p. 81, sec. 3). 

118 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

required an adequate and regular supply of water, it became 
necessary to construct ditches and flumes, which immediately 
assumed value as a part of a miner's equity.'^ This elaboration 
of industry naturally involved financial cooperation on a formal 
and permanent basis, and, as Professor Royce has emphasized, 
it had an important influence on the progress of social evolution 
in California.^ In consequence of General Riley's efforts to 
extend the operation of the Mexican system, the miners' alcaldes 
were by this time recognized civil authorities,^ and there was a 
growing tendency to refer mining disputes to them rather than 
to impromptu meetings, although legal forms were still set lightly 
aside in criminal matters. 

The characteristics of the time are well illustrated by the 
experiences of Stephen J. Field, who became in later years chief 
justice of the state. ^° He reached San Francisco at the close of 
December, 1849, and within three weeks moved inland to the 
present site of Marysville. The town, then known as Yubaville, 
had already attracted nearly a thousand people. A day or two 
after Field's arrival a civic organization was effected, and the 
3^oung lawyer was elected first alcalde. He was sworn into 
office by the judge of the Court of First Instance in Sacramento, 
and in order to cover all contingencies that might arise under 
the impending change of laws, the prefect of the district obtained 
for him the governor's appointment as a justice of the peace. 

'Bean's History and Directorij of Nevada County, 1867, p. 65, stated 
that the first mining ditch in California was projected at Nevada City, 
March, 1850. 

sEoyce, California, pp. 287-290, 301. 

9 The old officers were retained until successors could be elected (Califor- 
nia, Statutes, 1850, chap. 23, p. 77, sec. 2). Miners' alcaldes of this period 
are mentioned in Taylor, Eldorado, II, 17 ; A. B. Clarke, Travels in Mexico 
and California, 1852, p. 137. Many of Shinn's examples of camp organiza- 
tion also belong to these months. 

10 See S. J. Field, Personal Beminiscences of Early Days in California, 
[1893], pp. 18-37, 243; Bancroft, California, VI, 463-464; Amy and Amy, 
Marysville Directory for 1856, p. 5. The Register of Suits before the First 
Alcalde of Marysville, January to May, 1850, preserved in the archives of 
Yuba County, confirms Field's Beminiscences. 

The Fabrication of the Commonwealth 119 

The new magistrate was aware that the functions of the 
alcaldes were strictly defined by statutes, but he found that in 
the irregular conditions of the interregnum they exercised almost 
unlimited power. He therefore took jurisdiction over every 
case that was brought before him, and did his best to preserve 
order in spite of his ignorance of Mexican law. The lack of a 
jail forced him to sentence convicted criminals to corporal pun- 
ishment, but this stern discipline was approved by the com- 
munity, which exhibited an excellent understanding of the meas- 
ures that were required for the administration of justice. The 
prompt methods of his court are shown by the proceedings in 
a case of burglary that occurred at four o'clock on an April 
morning. The alcalde issued warrants for the thieves, and they 
were pursued, arrested, indicted by a grand jury, convicted by 
a petit jury, sentenced, whipped, and turned out of town within 
twelve hours. 

Various experiments in local organization were also products 
of the winter and spring of 1849 to 1850. The residents of Stock- 
ton, for instance, tried to effect municipal organization, and 
elected a council that proved to be an illegal body. It hastily 
adjourned when the councilmen discovered that they were per- 
sonally responsible for the obligations they had incurred.^^ 

In November Sonora felt the need of a public hospital, and 
in order to raise funds for the purpose adopted a town govern- 
ment with a council of seven, and transferred the acting alcalde, 
C. F. Dodge, to the position of mayor.^- Sacramento, which had 

11 History of San Joaquin County, 1879, p. 24 On Oct. 25, 1849, Thomas 
B. Van Buren, ''prosecuting attorney of the District of San Joaquin," 
wrote to Halleck that as the citizens of Stockton had already contributed 
$7000 for the prosecution of criminals, purchased a prison ship, and under- 
taken municipal improvements, they desired help from the government in 
defraying further expenses {Archives, ''Unbound Docs.," 49). 

12 On April 29, 1850, Major Sullivan Avas elected alcalde, "-without 
governmental authority and solely to meet an immediate emergency," His- 
tory of Tuolumne County [by Lang], 18, 25; Bancroft, California, VI, 

120 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

tried •unsuccessfully to install a form of town government in 
the spring of 1849, elected a council in July. It was, however, 
helpless to enforce order, as the people had failed to declare the 
boundaries of the city, and to fix the duties of the councilmen.^^ 
After a struggle with the disorderly element, which preferred the 
existing state of license, a charter was adopted in October; but 
the officials were unchecked by any wise limitations of power, 
and quickly accumulated a heavy debt. The situation was not 
relieved until the spring of 1850, when a better charter was 
acquired from the legislature. The mountain camp known as 
Rough and Ready, near Nevada City, found itself with a large 
population early in 1850, and the residents in mass meeting 
appointed a committee of three to settle disputes and to admin- 
ister justice. Edward F. Bean, writing in 1867, spoke of this as 
a ''Committee of Vigilance and Safety." As he did not quote 
from contemporary documents it is possible that the title was 
applied in retrospect after the committees of later days had 
made current the use of the term.^* 

The dangers that attended the unstable conditions of Califor- 
nia society during the spring of 1850 were aggravated by certain 
changes for the worse in the population itself. These were due, 
in part, to the demoralization of large numbers of miners by 
hardships, excitement, and dissipations. Many were broken in 
health by the physical strain of their work, and by their con- 
stant exposure to fever and malaria, scurvy and dysentery, and 
many more whose physical strength permitted them to drink 
without drunkenness in '49 plainly showed the effects of such 

13 P/acer Times, 1849, Aug. 11 %; Sept. 15 %. See also Bancroft, Cali- 
fornia, VI, 455-456; History of Sacramento County, 48-49. 

'^^ Bean's History and Directory of Nevada County, 359-361; Shinn, 
Mining Camps, 180, 225; Hittell, California, III, 279-280. The committee 
was not mentioned in the early sketch by A. A. Sargent in Brown and Dalli- 
son's Nevada, Grass Valley and Bough and Beady Directory, for ... 1856, 
pp. 44-45, but it was described in the History of Nevada County, 1880, pp. 
89-91, and that volume also spoke of an attempt to organize the independent 
' ' State of Rough and Ready. ' ' 

The Fdbrioaiion of the Commonwealth 121 

a habit after twelve or eighteen months of license.^^ The ranks 
of desperate and ruined men were constantly recruited from the 
victims of the universal passion for gambling. Games of chance 
ran openly in the shabby barrooms that lined the main street 
of every camp, and in the gaudy saloons of the larger settlements. 
Hundreds of professional gamblers fleeced the unwary, and in 
many places formed an allied group that successfully opposed 
all efforts towards social improvement.^^ The feverish and spec- 
tacular gambling of the mining days is often cited as an evidence 
of the toleration of evil permitted by an indifferent society. 
But in justice to the members of that society, it must be remem- 
bered that within five years of state organization gambling was 
forbidden by statute, and that laws of increasing stringency 
were subsequently enacted in the effort to suppress it effectively.^^ 
Another and a more dangerous influence came from abroad, 
for soon after the announcement of the discovery of gold vessels 
from Australia began to bring large numbers of ex-convicts from 
the British penal colonies. These immigrants were the products 
of the wretched system of deportation which had shipped in the 
same vessels the most abandoned criminals, together with women, 

15 On the hardships of California life, see Brooks, Fmir Months, 102- 
108; J. L. Tyson, Biary of a Physician, 1850, pp. 62-64; Johnson, Califor- 
nia and Oregon; or Sights in the Gold Region, 241-242; William Shaw, 
Golden Dreams and Waking Eealities, 1851; Golden Dreams and Leaden 
Eealities [by George Payson], 1853; California and Its Gold Mines [by 
Thomas Allsop], 1853, pp. 73-77; Eliza W. Farnham, California, In-doors 
and Out, 1856, pp. 366-368; Hittell, California, III, 168-171; '^T. Turn- 
biiirs Travels... to California," Wisconsin State Historical Society, Pro- 
ceedings, 1913, pp. 220-225. Taylor noted little drunkenness in 1849 
(Eldorado, II, 66). An epidemic of cholera added to the troubles of 1850 
{Annals, p. 305). 

16 The g-amblers in Sacramento defeated early attempts at organization 
(Bancroft, California, VI, 456), 

17 The first council of San Francisco made an unsuccessful attempt to 
forbid gambling in January, 1848 {Annals, 199). Games of chance were 
made illegal by the state legislature in 1855 {Statutes, chap. 103, p. 124). 
See also Hittell, California, II, 730, 805-806; IV, 69-70; and his General 
Laws of ... Calif ornia, ed. 2, 1870, II, sees. 3322-3338; Royce, California. 
425. Bothwick reported gambling on the wane in San Francisco in 1852 
{Three Years, 379). 

122 Vigilance Coymnittee of 1851 

and even boys and girls as young as twelve years of age. The 
prison ships and settlements were disciplined with the lash, and 
were hotbeds of atrocious vice. Of the British convict it was 
truly said: "The heart of a man was taken from him and he 
was given the heart of a beast. "^^ In Australia the prisoners 
were assigned to private masters, if such semi-liberty was con- 
sidered safe. When the period of their sentence had expired, 
or when good behavior warranted an earlier release, they were 
granted either full liberty, or tickets of leave that allowed them 
freedom under official supervision. Conditional pardons were 
also issued which permitted the holder to go at large in. any 
country except Great Britain. Thus dangerous men were sent 
away to be a menace to other lands. 

The port of San Francisco stood open to all the ships of the 
world, and until 1875 it was unguarded by any national legis- 
lation that prevented the immigration of undesirable or criminal 
aliens. As early as 1838 a bill had been presented to Congress 
providing penalties for the master of a vessel who should trans- 
port to the United States convicts, lunatics, or passengers suffer- 
ing from incurable diseases. The bill received no favorable con- 
sideration whatever, and as it was commonly supposed that 
individual states had power to regulate immigration into their 
own territory, some legislatures enacted statutes to prevent the 
landing of immigrants likely to become public charges. In 1849, 
however, the Supreme Court declared that such laws of New 
York and Massachusetts were unconstitutional, as the Federal 
Government alone had power to regulate matters of commerce 
and immigration.^^ Following the examples of Eastern states, 

'^^Encyclopedia Britannica, ed. 11, VIII, '^ Deportation," p. 58. See 
also Archbishop Richard Whately, ''Remarks on Transportation," in his 
Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, ed. 4, 1855, p. 271; C. A, Brown- 
ing, England's Exiles, 1842; Charles White, Early Australian History, 
1889; C. H. Northcott, Australian Socdal Development, 1918, pp. 37-44. 

19 See U. S. Immigration Commission, Immigration Legislation, 1911, 
pp. 12, 24r-28 (Reports, XXXIX, Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 5879, Doc. 758). 

The Fabrioaiion of the Commonwealth 123 

and perhaps unaware of the decision of 1849, the first California 
legislature adopted a statute that made it a felony to bring into 
the state convicts from other countries.-^ That law was nom- 
inally binding in California until as late as 1872, but it does 
not appear that there was an effective attempt to enforce it, and 
every vessel from Australia unloaded on the wharves of San 
Francisco men and women who had served their terms in the 
penal colonies, and gained freedom by means of conditional par- 
dons, or escaped while still under sentence. ^^ 

One advantage accrued to the Sydney men from their com- 
mon experience in dungeon and hold ; they knew each other with 
the intimacy of the underworld of crime, and maintained in 
California associations that had begun in English byways, flour- 
ished in the plague spots of the Southern Seas, and ripened into 
bonds of mutual offense and defense in the steerage of the trans- 
Pacific vessels. The gang organization quickly appeared among 
them, not in a highly developed form, as with the Hounds, but 
secret and evasive, yet none the less effective. Men and women 
from Sydney kept lodging houses in San Francisco, watermen 
from Sydney had boats to lend in time of need, blacksmiths were 
adept at cutting keys, bricklayers dropped useful hints about 
vaults and safes, clerks exchanged confidences as to the storage 
of coin and gold dust, even a warden of the port of San Fran- 
cisco, sometime inmate of a British prison, outlined a tempting 
scheme for looting the Custom House.-- Instinctive obedience 
was given to the men who proved themselves best able to take 
advantage of local conditions; to those who could decide which 
offices might be robbed, and which should be avoided ; who could 

20 California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 82, p. 202; Penal Code, 1872, § 173. 

21 Between March 31 and December 30, 1849, 842 passengers from 
Australia and Tasmania landed in San Francisco, while 505 came from 
New Zealand. (See the ''List of Passenger Arrivals," furnished by E. A. 
King, harbor master, in Society of California Pioneers, Twenty -fourth 
Anniversary, 1874, pp. 38, 47.) 

22 Thomas Belcher Kay, see infra, p. 282. 

124 Vigilance Co7nmittee of 1851 

acceptably divide the spoils or provide bail and counsel for a 
hard-pressed subordinate; establish an alibi, or sit among the 
good men and true sworn to mete out justice to the prisoner at 
the bar. 

Such leaders there were, and we shall presently make intimate 
acquaintance with them. But in the w^inter of 1850 and the 
early months of 1851 their identity was a mystery to the law- 
abiding citizens of California, although the community was 
fully aware of the menace to order that arose from the presence 
of the ' ' Sydney Ducks, " or ' ' Sydney Coves, ' ' as the Australians 
were popularly styled.^.^ The existence of organized bands of 
criminals was suspected, and with each fresh outrage their 
power and complexity of organization were magnified.-* There 
was no agency, however, public or private, equipped to follow 
scattered clues to a common center. 

There were in the state other aliens even more unpopular 
than the men from Sydney. From the days of the conquest there 
had survived a mutual dislike between Mexican and American. 
The American especially resented the presence in the mines of 
new arrivals from Mexico and from South America who expected 
to share with enfranchised citizens the benefit of the mineral 
treasure on the public land. Writing to the Secretary of War 
from Panama in January, 1849, General Persifor F. Smith had 
said: "I am informed that ships loaded with all the rabble of 
the Pacific ports are on their way to California," and alluding 
to the ''bands of plunderers organizing all along the coast for 

23 Both terms gained early currency. The Alia, 1851, July 10 %, spoke 
of "Sydney Ducks," and the Annals of San Francisco, published in 1855, 
used the expression ''Sydney Coves" (p. 257). 

24 On Nov. 20, 1850, the Alta stated that convicts were in California 
"by thousands" and were making the state a pandemonium (see also il>id, 
Feb. 20 %; April 11 %; infra, p. 233). The demoralizing effect of their 
presence was noted by Johnson, California and Oregon; or Sights in the 
Gold Region, 115; Delano, Life on the Plains and among the Diggings, 
359; J. W. Revere, Keel and Saddle, 1873, p. 166; Burnett, Recollections, 

The Fdhrication of the Commonwealth 125 

taking possession of the mines," he stated that he intended to 
enforce against aliens the laws that forbade trespassing on public 

As we have seen, every miner in California was a trespasser, 
until the lode law of 1866 formally opened the mineral lands to 
private ownership. The agreements under the miners ' laws were 
made possible by the expectation that the government would 
tolerate, and would eventually approve the exploitation of such 
lands by citizens of the country if their use of it conformed to 
existing practices as to the division of the public domain. This 
expectation was fulfilled. The law of 1866, however, restricted 
the right to take up mining claims to ''citizens or those who 
have declared their intention to become such."^*^ Had this limi- 
tation been formulated in 1848 or 1849 and enforced through 
legitimate diplomatic and legal methods, California might have 
escaped the violence that was caused by the determination of 
the Americans to exclude the foreign miners from privileges in 
which aliens had no presumptive rights, and to prevent the 
spoliation of the placers by cheap competition, and by the 
contract labor of Indians, Negroes, Mexicans, Orientals, and 
Kanakas. ^^ As it was, the American miners were left to their 
own initiative in the matter, for General Smith did not order the 
arrest of foreigners, but contented himself with informing them 
that he could ''not interfere to secure them in the infraction of 

25 See Hittell, California, III, 705 note 2; Bancroft, California, VI, 
403; Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 708, 712. As early as December, 
1847, immigration from Sonora had been prohibited by Colonel Mason, 
because he considered the people of that province undesirable residents of 
California {il)id., 450). The order was not enforced after the discovery 
of gold, and nearly 8000 came overland from Mexico in 1849 (Browne, 
Debates, Appendix, p. xxiii). 

26 See Lindley, Treatise on the American Law delating to Mines, I, 493, 
508-526; Thompson, TJ. S. Mining Statutes, I, 29-30; Yale, Legal Titles to 
Mining Claims, 34r-42; J. S. Hittell, Resources of California, ed. 6, 1874, 
p. 424 (but compare his earlier statement, ibid., ed. 1, 1863, p. 354). 

27 The natural resentment caused by the efforts to exploit extensive 
claims by cheap contract labor was noted by Katharine Coman in Economic 
Beginnings of the Far West, 1912, II, 282. 

126 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the law. "-^ His attitude, however, was generally understood, 
and the Americans took means of their own to oust unwelcome 

The inevitable result was the development of constant 
friction, not only with undesirable immigrants, but also with 
inoffensive companies from France, Germany, and England. 
Some camps expelled foreign miners under threat of death, there 
was occasional retaliation and bloodshed, and much injustice was 
done by the miners' courts to prisoners of alien birth. The 
attack made by the Hounds on the Chilenos of San Francisco 
was an extreme example of anti-foreign sentiment. In that 
instance the community rose en masse to punish the outrage, but 
throughout the state, from the earliest days of American occupa- 
tion, there was steady opposition to the immigration of large 
bodies of foreign laborers. Professor Royce denounced the atti- 
tude of the Californians in this respect as an example of narrow 
and unworthy prejudice.-^ Their conduct, however, should not 
be dismissed with facile condemnation or palliation for this par- 
ticular problem has proved most complicated and enduring in 
its perplexities. Indeed it should be related to the whole question 
of foreign immigration into the United States, as well as to the 
mingling of races on the Pacific Coast. For the purposes of this 

28 Tyson, Geology and Industrial Resources, 75. General Riley, after 
touring the mines in 1849, reported that the current rumors of anti-foreign 
hostilities had been much exaggerated {Cong. Does., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, 
p. 788). Holinski was enthusiastic over the "fraternite universelle" that 
united the many nationalities in the state {La Calif ornie, 165-169), but 
Gerstacker wrote that foreigners could not get justice in the remote regions 
(Travels, a translation from the German, 1854, p. 267). See also Edouard 
Auger, Voyage en Calif ornie, 1854, pp. 112-113; Charles de Lambertie, 
Voyage pittoresque en Calif ornie et au Chili, 1853, pp. 254-264; Kelly, 
Excursion to California, II, 23, 33-34; Johnson, California and Oregon; or 
Sights in the Gold Region, 225; Ryan, Personal Adventures, II, 296-299; 
Borthwick, Three Years, 74, 306, 363; Daniel Levy, Les Frangais en Cali- 
fornie, 1884, pp. 88-105. The impressions of a traveler from Chili are 
given in Vicente Perez Rosales, Becuerdos del pasado, 1910, pp. 259-370. 

29 Royce, California, pp. 236-239, 356-368; Hittell treated the subject 
more calmly {California, II, 736-737, III, 162-163, 262-264). 

The Fabrication of the Commonwealth 127 

study it has been necessary only to outline the situation and to 
show that it resulted in a marked increase of local disorders. 

Another result was the passage by the first legislature of a 
bill which imposed a license of twent}^ dollars a month on miners 
who were not citizens either b}^ birth or by the provisions of the 
treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.^*^ The attempt to enforce that law 
provoked resistance on the part of the foreigners and actual 
riot in the southern mines. ^^ Some of the Latin Americans were 
driven from the camps to range the mountains as solitary out- 
laws, or in robber bands, that later gave much trouble to the 

In reviewing the difficulties of the state during this time, we 
cannot ignore the hostility that const antl}^ existed between the 
Indians and the white men. Long before Americans came to 
California the two races had lived in active conflict and the 
Indians had attacked the Spaniards and suffered punishment for 
their raids even during the most successful period of the mission 
era. The coast region was fairly protected under the Mexican 
rule, but the interior valleys and the mountains had been left to 
the undisturbed possession of the savage tribes, yet in spite of 
this compromise Indian horse thieves constantly stampeded large 
bands of animals and slaughtered them for food. 

With the advent of the Americans, hostilities grew more 
acute, for overland parties armed for self -protect ion and imbued 
with the hatred bred from centuries of frontier warfare, traversed 

30 California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 97, p. 221; repealed, Statutes, 1851, 
chap. 108, p. 424. 

31 See Shinn, Mining Camps, 212-218; History of Tuolumne County 
[bj Lang], 28-34, 39-47; Hittell, Calif orn-ia. III, 128-131, 706-710. Sir 
Henry V. Huntley said that there would have been less objection to the tax 
on foreigners if the government had in return given them any protection 
{California, 1856, p. 218). 

32 See Bancroft, California, VI, 469. Joaquin Murietta, a noted bandit, 
who was killed in 1853, began his career in revenge for the mistreatment 
of his wife, and a whipping given him by miners in 1850. See Bancroft, 
California, VII, 203 note 13; Hittell, California, III, 712-726; J. M. 
Scanland, ''Joaquin Murrieta, " Overland Monthly, ser. 2, XXVI (1895), 
530-539; J. R. Ridge, Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, ed. 3, 1871. 

128 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

mountain routes where the Indian considered himself master. 
During the first years of the gold excitement he was an ever 
present menace to the isolated miners, and the unprotected state 
of the countr}^ prompted an alert defense that often degenerated 
into wanton butchery. 

On which side lay the initial aggression is a question for the 
expert in the special field of Indian affairs ;^^ but no research 
can palliate the fact that for every overt act on the part of a 
thieving or murderous Indian, a deadly vengeance was levied 
upon the men, women, and children of the offender's race. Even 
in the neighborhood of the older settlements the most deplorable 
conditions prevailed, as military forces were insufficient to protect 
life and property, and Colonel Mason had been obliged to advise 
the residents to organize armed pursuit of Indian horse thieves 
and to kill them without compunction.^* On the other hand, 
when a friendly Indian appealed to the alcalde of San Jose for 
protection, he too was told that no aid could be given by govern- 
ment, and that he might defend his own life in case of attack.^"'^ 
General Riley attributed Indian hostility in 1849 to the execution 
of certain chiefs in 1848, and to the barbarities of immigrants, 
especially of those from Oregon, who had brought to California 
the bitterness which resulted from the Indian massacres in that 

33 See Bancroft, CaJifornia, VII, 474-494, and Index under '^ Indian 
Hostilities"; Hittell, California, III, 884^981. Early conflicts between 
Indians and Americans were noted in the California Star, 1847, March 13 
Yi; April 10 %} Brooks, Four Months, 131-152; Kelly, Excursion to Califor- 
nia, II, 141-148 ; S. Weston, Life in the Mountains . . . of California, 1854, 
pp. 7-14; Biographical Sketch of William B. Ide [by Simeon Ide], 1880, 
pp. 224-230. The subject has been studied by W. H. Ellison, in a doctoral 
dissertation, The United States Indian Policy in California, 1846-1860, 
1918, MS in the University of California Library. 

34 See Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doe. 17, pp. 355, 643, 645, 689. 

35 Charles White, alcalde of San Jose, to Mason, April 29, 1848, Archives, 
''Unbound Docs.," 43. 

36 See Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 790; Tyson, Diary of a 
Physician, 62-63; Johnson, California and Oregon; or Sights in the Gold 
Begion, 170-186. Governor Burnett, who came from Oregon, frankly said 
that the extermination of the Indians was practically inevitable (Journals 
of the California Legislature, 1851, p. 15). 

The Fahrication of the Commonwealth 129 

Even the elements seemed to conspire against the peace of 
California in the critical winter of 1849 to 1850, for the rainy 
season was of unusual length and severity. Many miners 
were forced to remain idle until want stared them in the face, 
while loaded wagons, mired along the rough highways, offered 
irresistible temptation to the needy and the dishonest.^" Cattle 
thieves also began the most outrageous operations,^^ and theft 
and violence became matters of daily occurrence. 

The citizens at large were quite aware of the unfortunate 
tendencies of the period, but with the same optimism that had 
carried them through the discomforts of the interregnum they 
accepted their troubles as inevitable accompaniments of a transi- 
tional era, and hoped for. speedy improvement as soon as the 
new order could be established. Meanwhile the demands of 
commercial life were insistent and exacting, and they devoted 
themselves to their private business, leaving public matters to 
the men they had placed in office. The frontiersman, as a rule, 
is an out and out individualist, who awakens slowly to the 
importance of communal interests.^^ This trait was a marked 
characteristic of the early Californian, for the state, as a field 
of social activity, did not quickly arouse the enthusiasm of the 
self-absorbed pioneer. It did, however, appeal with tremendous 
allurement to another type of American— the professional office 
seeker, of petty or magnificent aspirations, and many political 
pilgrims from the East had followed the star of empire in its 
westward course.*^ 

sr Popular Tribunals, I, 73; Delano, Life on the Plains and among the 
Diggings, 268, 359-362. 

38 By January, 1850, Sutter had been robbed of almost all his live stock 
(see supra, p. 67 note 3). A rancher near Stockton lost nearly $3000 
worth of cattle in a single night (T. H. Hittell, AdA)eiitures of James Capen 
Adams, 1860, pp. 11-12). 

39 The persistence of individualism in the West is discussed by Hill in 
his Public Domain and Democracy, 130-146. 

40 William Carey Jones wrote to the Secretary of the Interior: ''A 
number of persons seem to have come out during the summer of 1849 with 
no other view than to go back with four thousand miles of mileage in their 
pockets" {Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, p. 118). 

130 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Chief among them were "William M. Gwin and David C. 
Broderick, both of whom reached San Francisco in June, 1849. 
Absolutely unlike in personality and experience, they were 
equally resolved on securing a political leadership that would 
win for them seats in the Senate of the United States.*^ Gwin 
was a Southern man, genial, educated, experienced as a Con- 
gressman from Mississippi from 1841 to 1843, and with Southern 
views on the extension of slavery. Broderick was of Irish extrac- 
tion, rugged and unpolished, without friends or fortune, self- 
educated in matters intellectual, but thoroughly schooled in the 
practices of Tammany Hall and of the New York Fire Depart- 
ment. He was opposed to the involuntary servitude of the 
colored race, but unscrupulous in fastening upon a negligent 
public the shackles of political despotism. 

Gwin won immediate popularity, participated in the trial of 
the Hounds, became a delegate to the constitutional convention, 
assumed a leading part in the discussion there, and promptly 
realized his ambitions by securing the election to the United 
States Senate.*^ He held the office for two terms and secured 
the passage of important legislation for the benefit of the state, 
while annual visits to California enabled him to maintain a firm 
grip upon local politics. 

Broderick 's earliest opportunity for leadership in California 
developed after the first great fire in San Francisco, December 24, 
1849,^^ when he was conspicuous in organizing the Empire 

41 The long rivalry between the two Democratic leaders ended only with 
Broderick 's death after a duel with Gwin 's adherent. Judge David S. Terry, 
on Sept. 13, 1859. In addition to the references found in Bancroft and 
Hittell, see James O'Meara, Broderick and Gwin, 1881; Alonzo Phelps, 
Contemporary Biography of California's Eepresentative Men, 1881-1882, 
I, Sketch of Gwin, 231-239; Jeremiah Lynch, A Senator of the Fifties 
[Broderick], 1911; E. B. Kennedy, The Contest for California in 1861, 
1912, pp. 32-63; K C. O'Connor, ^' David Colbert Broderick,'' American 
Irish Historical Society, Journal, XIII (1914), 132-162; sketch of Brod- 
erick, San Francisco Chronicle, 1876, June 16. 

42 See Bancroft, California, VI, 311. 
43 See infra, p. 1(J4. 

The Fabrication of the Commonwealth 131 

Engine Company, of which he became the first foreman. On 
January 8, 1850/* he was elected to a vacant seat in the state 
senate, immediately became prominent in the movement for 
organization of the Democratic party and within a year was 
recognized as a party leader.*^ He was always fearless and 
uncompromising in his affiliations and animosities, and believed 
in using heavy tools for rough work. His influence as foreman 
of the Empire Engine Company was an asset which stood him 
in good stead. In addition, he gathered for use in hours of 
need a band of followers who were ready to do his bidding at 
mass meeting, election, and secret rendezvous. His effective 
machine did not become fully apparent in San Francisco until 
a year or two later ; some of his future henchmen, however, were 
already well known as manipulators at local elections, and the 
names of a few of them appear in the papers of the Committee 
of Vigilance.*^ 

The gentleman from the South and the ward boss from the 
North, with their allies and rivals, had a curious constituency 
with which to deal. About sixty per cent of the American popu- 
lation had been born north of Mason and Dixon's line.*'' The 
sentiment of the state was overwhelmingly opposed to the local 
introduction of slavery and therefore to the most cherished 
policy of many of the national leaders of the Democratic 
party. Nevertheless California emerged into political life as a 

^4. Annals, 266. 

45 For the earliest Democratic organization, see supra, p. 116. The Whigs 
organized Feb. 9, 1850 (Davis, Political Conventions, 6-9; Annals, 267-269). 

46 See C. of v., Papers, Index under ' ' Broderick, ' ' ''Charles Duane, " 
and ' ' Ira Cole. ' ' Broderiek is said to have defended his use of such men 
by the argument : ' ' Your respectable people I can 't depend on. You won 't 
go down and face the revolvers of those fellows; and I have to take such 
material as I can get hold of. They stuff the ballot boxes and steal the 
tally-lists; and I have to keep these fellows to aid me" (Bancroft, Califor- 
nia, VI, 678 note). 

47 See analysis of census of 1850, in H. E. Bolton, ''The Obligation of 
Nevada Toward the Writing of Her Own History," Nevada Historical 
Society, Reports, III (1911-1912), 71. 

132 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Democratic state, basing party affiliations not on the fundamental 
question of slavery, but rather on the secondary issue of the 
Mexican War, which was more generally approved by the Demo- 
crats than by the Whigs.^^ All intense questions of national 
politics and of personal convictions were thus eliminated from 
the local arena for a large number of these anti-slavery Demo- 
crats. As a result, an ambition for office became the sole incen- 
tive in the conduct of campaigns, and the astute Democratic 
politicians, willing to devote their best ability to a promising field, 
rapidly gained control of the situation. The men to whom they 
distributed the spoils of victory were not, as a rule, those builders 
of the commonwealth who had met the problems of the transition 
period. Useful adherents of the political machine were placed 
in office, and it became a matter of moment in the later history 
of the state that Gwin and his followers selected many of their 
proteges from Southern families who soon became a well defined 
social and political influence in the population. The ascendancy 
and arrogance of the ' ' Southern Chivalry " is a theme on which 
Bancroft waxed bitterly eloquent.^^ The day of their supremacy 
was somewhat later than the period of the first Committee of 
Vigilance, yet as early as 1850 the master mechanics of the politi- 
cal craft were assembling and coordinating the elements of their 
future structure. 

During the months in which California was pushing forward 
her self-assumed task of organization, the national capitol was 
seething with the protracted conflict over the extension of 
slavery. When Congress reassembled in December, 1849, the 
question of the western lands might no longer be evaded. Cali- 
fornia asked for admission as a sovereign state and claimed 
the privilege of such a state in the adjustment of her domestic 
institutions. The question of her admission had a significance 

48 Hittell, California, IV, 50. 

49 Bancroft, Calif orma, VI, ''PoUtical History," chaps. 23-24. 

The Fahrication of the Commowwealth 133 

far wider than the mere recognition of a new commonwealth. 
Fifteen of the thirty states of the Union had already prohibited 
slavery. While these states controlled a majority in the House 
of Representatives, the Senate was evenly divided on sectional 
lines and could nullify the action of the House. If California 
should be admitted there would be a free-state majority in the 
Senate and an end to the power of the South to control or delay 
legislation inimical to the slave-holding interests. 

Other aspects of the abolitionist propaganda complicated the 
situation. The public slave trade had become an offense to many 
who might have ignored unseen evils, and there was a strong 
demand that, in the District of Columbia at least, it should 
be abolished by Congress. Moreover, throughout the Northern 
states, there was a disposition to obstruct the execution of laws 
that enforced the return of fugitive slaves, and their owners 
insisted upon more stringent regulations. There was also a dis- 
pute over the boundary between Texas and New Mexico. Slavery 
was permitted in Texas, and the South therefore felt that it was 
extremely important to extend that area as far as possible. In the 
face of all these questions the slave states still had the strength 
to delay any change in the existing balance of power, while the 
Northern states, not content to exclude slavery from California 
alone, continued to insist upon its prohibition in all of the terri- 
tory acquired from Mexico, and to agitate for modifications in 
the matter of the slave trade. 

The struggle that ensued was long and bitter. Bills and reso- 
lutions of opposing import indicated the futile effort of both 
parties to establish control of the situation. More than once in 
the endless discussions a smouldering spirit of disunion flamed 
into open threats of secession.^° The political leaders of a passing 

50 See G. P. Garrison, Westward Extension, 1906, pp. 294-333; W. H. 
Smith, Political History of Slavery, 1903, I, 113-129; Ehodes, History of 
the United States, 1, 116-198; J. B. McMaster, History of the People of the 
United States, VIII (1913), 10-43. 

134 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

era met for the last time in the memorable debates of that session. 
Henry Clay strove to avert impending civil war by concessions 
important to both the contending factions, and Daniel Webster 
supported him with all the resources of his passionate eloquence, 
while John C. Calhoun, rising from his deathbed, stirred the 
Senate with ringing words of opposition, although his mortal 
weakness imposed the delivery of his message upon the voice of 
a colleague. 

In the end the statemanship of Clay effected a compromise. 
He was the author of a series of eight resolutions, which contem- 
plated the admission of California according to the terms of her 
constitution ; the organization of territorial governments for New 
Mexico and Utah without restriction as to slavery, and their sub- 
sequent admission as states with such regulations as their people 
should determine; the adjustment of the boundary dispute in 
favor of New Mexico, with liberal remuneration to Texas; the 
abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia to placate 
Northern sentiment, and the imposition of more stringent 
fugitive slave laws to satisfy the demands of Southern slave 
o^^Tiers. After seven months of discord and struggle, such pro- 
visions were finally adopted as separate measures. The act 
admitting California to statehood^^ was signed by President Fill- 
more on September 9, 1850, and the Compromise of 1850 relieved 
for a time the tension in national affairs. 

The Oregon, bearing the news of admission, steamed through 
the Golden Gate on October 18, 1850, firing preconcerted signals 
which heralded her long awaited message. At the sound of her 
first gun the men of San Francisco paused to listen in tense 
expectation. Then, as the recurrent detonations confirmed their 
hopes, the voices of exultant thousands broke out in a mighty 
shout of universal joy. Dressed in all the flags her lockers could 
boast, the Oregon rounded Clark's Point, and came to anchor 

51 U. S., Statutes at Large, IX, 452. 

The Fabrication of the Commonwealth 135 

abreast of the city, while the city rushed shoreward to meet 
her — laborers from the streets, merchants from the stores, law- 
yers from the offices, judges from the bench — until a solid mass 
of humanity surged back and forth between the water front and 
the Plaza, repeating the news and devouring the editions of the 
papers that appeared as if by magic within an hour of the 
steamer's arrival.^^ 

The four year interregnum was over, the military command- 
ant was no more, the de facto government was buried in the 
graveyard of political theories, the constitutional convention was 
approved, the organization of the state, and the acts of the first 
legislature were validated. The commonwealth of California had 
come into her own! 

^2 See Annals, 293-295. 


By the time the welcome news of admission was received in 
California the organization of the state had made substantial 
progress, but, instead of the expected improvement in social 
order, it became more and more evident that the new govern- 
ment failed to control crime and to check the evils that had 
taken root in the country during the long period of the inter- 
regnum. The system which had been outlined in the state con- 
stitution and developed in the first session of the legislature, 
was modeled on the institutions of older states, where Americans 
were habituated to self-control, where there was ready communi- 
cation between the centers and the outskirts of social life, where 
families had long been planted in permanent homes, and where 
mutual acquaintance had ripened during years or generations 
of neighborly contact. In California conditions were still far 
from normal. 

It is quite true that there were more than a hundred thousand 
men in California in 1850, but the mere fact that they had incor- 
porated themselves into a state did not instantly weld the hetero- 
geneous mass into social unity. And one curious thing must be 
remembered: they were, in each other's eyes, a hundred thousand 
men without any past that antedated their arrival in California. 
No questions were asked as to a man's family or associations, his 
success or failure in any previous environment, or his influence 
for good or evil on any community east of the Sierra Nevada 
Mountains. The initiation into California existence was briefly 
described by the observant Frenchman, Saint- Amant, who wrote 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 137 

of the arrival in the port of San Francisco •} ' ' Personne ne vons 
demande qui vous etes, ni d'on vous venez. Voiis quittez votre 
numero de bord, et vous prenez le nom qui vous convient. ' ' The 
virile democracy of California towns and mining camps has often 
been depicted with enthusiasm as a splendid example of Ameri- 
can manhood, and such it truly was ; but a man without a past, 
be he never so fearless and independent, is not always a citizen 
of the highest constructive ability. 

Another circumstance exerted a profound influence on the 
men of California : there was a persistent feeling on the part of 
the large majority that they were on the Pacific Coast only for 
a short time, and that they would return to their former homes 
as soon as their fortunes would allow. The state did not at first 
seem very attractive as a place of continued residence. There 
was a general anticipation that the placers would quickly be 
exhausted, and agriculture was a doubtful venture on account 
of the long season of summer drought.^ Even the men who 
desired to make permanent homes in California were checked 
in their ambitions by the confusion over land titles which dis- 
tracted the state for many years. Holders of Mexican grants 
still laid claim to most of the desirable agricultural tracts, and 
cautious settlers feared to invest funds in the purchase of their 
doubtful titles. The covetous on the other hand wished to set 
all former ownership aside, and to appropriate whatever they 
might desire. Squatters went so far as to attempt armed 

1 Pierre Charles de Saint-Amant, Voyages en Calif ornie et dans I'Oregon, 
1854, p. 73. 

2 ' ' Not one out of ten thousand then in California thought seriously of 
making the Pacific Coast his continual abiding place. All men were so- 
journers and everybody habitually talked about going home" {Memoirs 
of Cornelius Cole, 75). See also Buffum, Six Months, 136; Helper, Land 
of Gold, 17-18; Ryan, Personal Adventures, II, 184. Compare these con- 
ditions with the spirit of permanent settlers as portrayed by Esarey Logan, 
''The Pioneer Aristocracy," Indiana Magazine of History, XIII (1917), 

138 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

violence, in Sacramento in the summer of 1850.^ Such open 
efforts to steal private land were largely checked by public sen- 
timent, although the original owners were in the end despoiled 
of most of their heritage by the tedious process of predatory 

Aside from the gross injustice wrought against the Mexican 
proprietors, this condition greatly retarded the development of 
any class of small landholders, and seriously delayed the agri- 
cultural and industrial growth of the state. Mining was, there- 
fore, the one important industry of California, and by its very 
nature imposed upon the people an abnormal excitement and 
restlessness. The mining camps were of necessity ephemeral in 
their existence, and shifting in their elements. Hundreds or 
thousands of men would flock to new diggings in a few weeks, 
only to desert the region as suddenly as they came.^ The towns 
were no less changeable in their composition. Burnett, a promi- 
nent member of the San Francisco legislative assembly, who had 
known nearl}^ every one of his fellow-citizens in September, 

1849, could not recognize one in ten after an absence of six 

3 See Eoyce, California, 467-491, and his '^ Squatter Riot of '50," 
Overland Monthly, ser. 2, VI (1885), 225-246; Bancroft, California, VI, 
529-581; Hittell, California, III, 666-704; Upham, Notes of a Voyage to 
California, 333-351. The spirit of the times was illustrated by a card 
printed in the Sacramento Union, and copied in the San Francisco Herald, 
1851, Sept. 17 %, in which T. O. Selby warned whom it might concern that 
as trespassers had attacked his son, he would kill anyone repeating such 
an act. 

4 The land bill (U. S. Statutes at Large, IX, 631), required the Mexican 
owners to prove their titles, with the United States in the position of a 
rival claimant. Decisions could be appealed to the United States District 
Court, and then to the Supreme Court, a process which ultimately im- 
poverished even successful litigants. Their position is told with graphic 
pathos in a petition for relief, published by C. H. Shinn in the Magazine 
of American History, XXV (1891), 39^^402. 

5 A condition typical of several years was described by residents of 
Dry Diggings, when on Sept. 20, 1849, they petitioned for a special local 
election, as, at the regular date on the first of August, the settlement had 
been too small to need magistrates, while at the time of writing it was very 
large, and would swell to thousands by winter (Archives, *' Unbound Docs.," 
47-48, 325-326). The placers at Kennebec Hill were discovered in March, 

1850, and within thirteen days 8000 miners rushed to the camp (Shinn, 
Mining Camps, 244-245). 

The Failure to EstaMish Social Control 139 

weeks, and found himself such a stranger in November that he 
had grave doubts of securing his election as governor.^ 

As a result of these frequent and sudden migrations centers 
of population suddenly sprang up in remote and inaccessible 
places. There is much truth in Rudyard Kipling's aphorism: 
' ' Transportation is Civilization. ' '^ The social order transplanted 
to California had grown up in regions where highroads were 
naturally extended as the population increased. But as yet 
California had no facilities for transportation. The larger towns 
were linked by rough stage roads, but many mountain settlements 
communicated with the outside world only by the most primitive 
trails, which were practically impassable at certain seasons of 
the year. Numbers of such scattered and isolated communities 
were associated in the political bonds of county organization, 
and all the administration of local affairs was in the hands of 
the officers elected by the voters of the several townships or the 
county at large. 

Of late years the students of political science have investi- 
gated with interest the effect on our national life of the self- 
governing county.^ The political conscience of the state at large 
makes the laws for the general commonwealth, but the American 
distrust of centralized authority has developed a system that 
places the enforcement of those laws chiefly in the hands of 
officials who are chosen by relatively small groups of electors. 
In many matters of the utmost importance these officers are 
practically independent of any higher authority, and are respon- 
sible only to the vague master called ' ' the public, ' ' which assumes 

6 Burnett, Becollections, 347. 

7 Eudyard Kipling, ''With the Night Mail," in his Actions and Ee- 
actions (1910), 145. 

8 See HoAvard, Introduction to the Local Constitutional Eistonj of the 
United States, I, 135-148; ''County Government," American Academy af 
Political and Social Science, Annals, XLVII (1913), 1-278, especially 271- 
275; H. S. Gilbertson, The County, the "Baric Continent" of American 
Politics, 1917. 

140 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

tangible substance but once in two or three years, when the 
neighbors whom they have placated or antagonized slip printed 
papers into a ballot box.^ In consequence of this independence a 
local unit often nullifies unpopular statutes by the simple expedi- 
ent of ignoring their infraction. If on the other hand the local 
officials are anxious to execute the laws promptly and effectively, 
they must rely entirely upon their own resources and expect no 
help from without. When a system such as this was applied to 
the conditions that prevailed in California it was inevitable that 
all its latent weakness should develop with startling abruptness. 
In April or May of 1850 the people of nearly every com- 
munity were called upon to fill a large number of elective offices. 
There was no requirement of pre-election registration although 
the law stipulated that a qualified elector must have resided 
thirty days in his county or district, and six months in the state.^^ 
A voter of doubtful status might be challenged at the polls, 
but if he still affirmed under oath that he was entitled to the 
franchise he was permitted to cast a ballot, although subject to 
prosecution for perjury if he had sworn falsely.^^ Such regula- 
tions fairly invited fraudulent voting, and at a later date the 
state became notorious for its wholesale corruption. At the 
earlier elections it is probable that the requirements as to resi- 
dence were not strictly enforced, and that the wandering miners 
voted wherever they tarried over election day. Indeed, in 
November, 1851, William B. Ide, judge of the County Court of 
Colusa County, wrote •}^ 

9 See Bryce, American Commonwealth, I, 536 et seq.; J. A. Smith, Spirit 
of American Government, ed. of 1912, pp. 243-248; J. H. Mathews, Prin- 
ciples of American State Administration, 1917, pp. 401-473. 

10 Calfornia, Statutes, 1850, ehap. 38, p. 102, sec. 10. 

11 See '^The People vs. Gordon et al.," Fifth Calif omia Reports, 235. 
Large numbers of Sonorans were voted in squads by unscrupulous politicians 
in San Jose in the spring of 1851, and for years the native Mexican vote 
was manipulated in the same way (Peckham, in San Jose Pioneer, 1877, 
July 28, Scrapbook, p. 32). One of the Sydney men hanged by the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance told of collecting a dozen ex-convicts to vote at a San 
Francisco primary election for city marshal (see infra, p. 292). 

12 Letter in Biographical Sketch of William B. Ide, 231. 

The Failure to EstaMish Social Control 141 

Our population are like birds of passage, except their migrations are not 
exactly periodical. ... At present ten individuals pay more than three-fourths 
of the taxes paid within the county, and comprise nearly all its permanent 

residents At the polls the non-residents (when they unite), have the 

elections as they please; and the usual result is, that transient, irresponsible 
persons are elected, and ionds of the liTce character are filed. 

Even when the provisions of the Act to Regulate Elections were 
observed, the electors might have lived in a given locality but 
a month, and formed little acquaintance with their fellow-citi- 
zens. Often the candidates were almost unknown to their con- 
stituents. In such cases there was no way of securing reliable 
information as to their characters or past records, and any man 
ambitious for office could easily force himself upon the attention 
of the public.^^ 

One of the best known political incidents of early daj^s was 
the election of the sheriff of San Francisco, in May, 1850.^* The 
Democratic candidate was Colonel J. J. Bryant, owner of the best 
hotel in San Francisco. He spared no expense in winning votes, 
kept open house with a generosity that nearly proved his ruin, 
and stationed bands to play in a balcony for days before the 
election. His chief rival was Colonel John C. Hays, who had 
won celebrity by service with the Texas Rangers on the Mexican 
border. Hays had been a resident of San Francisco about two 
months, and ran as an independent candidate. This contest 
was the most exciting of the campaign and was conducted, on 
both sides, with enthusiastic meetings, music, and torchlight 
possessions. Animated electioneering was kept up as long as 
the polls were open, and the tide of popular favor was not 
decisively turned until Hays appeared, mounted on a magnificent 

13 In August, 1849, Burnett accomplished the election of a friend from 
Missouri within forty-eight hours of the latter 's arrival in Sacramento 
(Becollections, 335-336). 

14 See Davis, Political Conventions, 10; Annuls, 269-272. Hays an- 
nounced himself as a candidate in the same issue of the paper that chronicled 
his arrival in San Francisco (Alta, 1850, Feb. 1). His adventures as a 
Eanger are told in S. C. Keid, Jr., Scouting Expeditions of McCulloch's 
Texas Bangers, 1847, pp. 108-116. 

142 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

horse which he reined through the noisy streets with a skill that 
called forth the wildest applause. A throng surged around him, 
eager for recognition and the clasp of his hand, the music of 
his opponent was drowned in shouts of greeting, and when his 
excited steed finally dashed away through the cheering crowd 
the day was won for the Texas Ranger. The choice was most 
fortunate for the city. "Jack" Hays, always a popular and pic- 
turesque figure, proved an upright and efficient sheriff, and we 
shall hear much of him during the summer of 1851. His election 
was typical of a condition of society where the choice of officials 
depended all too largely upon trivial accidents and the momen- 
tary impulses of the voters. 

The men who were elected by these aggregations of compara- 
tive strangers were commissioned to control the local affairs of 
California for many months without fear of effective reproof 
or restraint. In many places the personnel of the community 
changed again and again before their terms expired, while 
standards of citizenship shifted with equal rapidity.^^ In such 
fluctuating conditions there was special need for sagacity and 
real executive ability on the part of those in authority, yet the 
small salaries of public office failed to attract the more able 
citizens who could win much larger rewards in commercial 

In California during the decade of the fifties there were 
men of every type and character in the major and minor offices 
of the state. A traveler wrote of one of the remote districts '}^ 

One of the judges of this court is at the same time a justice of the peace, 
sign painter, postmaster, miner, engineer, carpenter, doctor, boarding-house 
keeper, and assistant surveyor of the district — having thus ten independent 

15 < ^ It was a common observation, until very large investments of capital 
necessitated permanency of residence, that there was not a mining town in 
California that did not have an almost entire change of population every 
three years" (Hittell, California, III, 108). 

^^ Calif ornia and Its Gold Mines [by Allsop], 124. Characteristic of 
1850, although written December, 1852. 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 143 

functions, all of which he fills with credit to himself and advantage to the 
community. You will often find a man on the bench one year, and in the 
middle of the river the next. 

Another described as follows the magistrates of Murderer's 


There is a justice of the peace (up to his arms in the river just at 
present), and there is a constable (who has been ''prospecting" a bag of 
earth from the hill, and been rewarded with a gold flake of the value of 
three cents) ; these two, one would suppose, could scarcely control two or 
three hundred men, with rude passions and quick tempers, each of whom, 
as you observe, carries his revolver even while at work. But these armed, 
rough-looking fellows themselves elected the judge and constable, and stand 
ever ready, as ''specials," to support them. 

But the same author also regretted that many judges had been 
elected who had hardly any knowledge of the law, and were 
subservient to the dishonest class from which they received their 

Contemporary estimates of the public service were typified 
by the assertion made in the San Francisco Evening Ficayune, 
that there was scarcely a legislative, executive, or judicial officer 
in the state who did not regard his position solely as a means 
of obtaining money for a speedy return to the East.^^ In spite 
of such assertions, Bancroft wrote of the period '}^ 

I may safely say that the judges on the whole were honest men. ... On 
the Supreme bench, and presiding over the district and county courts, par- 
ticularly in the cities and more thickly populated parts, have been from 
the first occupation of the territory by citizens of the United States until 

17 See Frank Marryat, Mountains and Molehills, 1855, pp. 236, 389. 

^8 Picayune, 1850, Sept. 2 %. 

19 Bancroft, California Inter Pocula, 582. But contrast his statement: 
"In a few instances, before the year 1850 had expired, justices of the 
peace and judges had been impeached and driven from their seats by the 
people. But compared "with those who at this time were accustomed, either 
openly or in secret, to take illegal fees, to extort, accept bribes, or other- 
wise violate their oath of office, the number punished was insignificant" 
(iMd., 590). 

144 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

the present day, as able and erudite jurists, men of as broad and enlightened 
intellects, as might be found elsewhere in Europe or America. Some were 
dissipated, but for the most part they were men of integrity. 

Whatever may have been the personal characters of Califor- 
nia's judges in 1850, the courts over which they presided quickly 
became notorious for their failure to convict and punish crim- 
inals, especially those who could pay for skilful defense. In the 
opinion of the contemporary public this immunity was almost 
universally attributed to flagrant corruption within professional 
circles, and later critics have found it very easy to make similar 
strictures. Corruption there was, for it was inevitable that 
many unworthy officials should find their way into positions of 
responsibility and time showed that not a few of them had past 
experiences of disreputable quality. Royce severely condemned 
the ''persistently wicked neglect to choose good public officers" 
that made the mining society the "friend and upholder of the 
very roguery that it flogged and hanged. "^° The student who 
desires to make a fair estimate of the situation, however, must 
take into account all the conditions that hampered the admin- 
istration of justice, even when there was a righteous zeal on the 
part of the public servants. 

Mention has already been made of the general result of the 
low ratio of salaries of public office to the ordinary profits of 
business, but particular attention must be called to its effect 
upon the selection of prosecuting attorneys. There were in 
California many men who had studied and practiced law before 
the gold rush attracted them to the Pacific Coast, and who were 
glad to return to their profession as soon as the courts were 

20Eoyce, California, 337. The difficulty of choosing suitable officials 
was clearly recognized by Saint- Amant {Voyages, 399). A striking example 
of California conditions is given by the story of Paul Geddes, of Pennsyl- 
vania, who under the alias Talbot H. Green, was a leading candidate for 
mayor of San Francisco in 1851. His real identity and past irregularities 
of conduct were discovered on the eve of election (Bancroft, California, III, 
765-766; Davis, Sixty Years, 325; Alta, 1851, April 16 %). 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 145 

established. Fees were so large in both civil and criminal cases 
that the private practice of a competent lawyer insured a large 
income while the small salaries of the prosecuting attomeys^^ 
did not attract men who were fitted to cope with the counsel 
retained to defend the prisoners at the bar. In consequence, the 
criminal courts were quickly at the mercy of clever and well 
paid lawyers, who imposed upon them every possible technical 
evasion until the whole machinery of the law became a shield 
for the criminal rather than a safeguard to the community.^- 

Not only were the odds during the trial largel}^ in favor of 
the defendant, but in cases of conviction he had an excellent 
chance to escape because of the total lack of secure jails. The 
failure of the various communities in California to provide 
adequate prisons even after five years of American occupation, 
has been severely censured-^ as an evidence of a selfish reluctance 
to spend some of the common wealth in preserving and upbuild- 
ing the social order. As a matter of fact, public improvements 
had been out of the question in settlements that had no consti- 
tutional right to levy taxes, or to make contracts.-* San Fran- 
cisco purchased a prison brig in 1849 ; Sacramento did the same 
in 1850, and smaller towns improvised places of confinement as 
best they might f^ but before permanent structures could be com- 
menced it was necessary to organize the counties, choose county 
seats, vote funds, and arrange manj^ details of construction.-^ 

21 The salary of a district attorney was $2000 (California, Statutes, 
1850, chap. 25, p. 83). 

22 Prisoners were quite ready to pay their la■\^'yers fees of $1000 (P. A. 
Eoach, Statevient of HiMoncal Facts on California, 1878, p. 8, MS in the 
Bancroft Library). The anecdotes told by L. A. Norton show how easily 
guilty men could be freed on technicalities (Life and Adventures, 279-290). 

23 As by H. K. Norton, Storij of California, 1913, p. 246. 

24 See the experiments in Stockton, supra, p. 119. 

25 The bark La Grange was bought for a jail at Sacramento {History 
of Sacramento County, 87-88). The early jail in Los Angeles was an old 
adobe residence, and prisoners Avere chained to a pine log for safe keeping 
(Horace Bell, Reminiscences of a Banger, 1881, p. 51). The first public 
building of Contra Costa County was a stone jail, built in 1850, a poor affair 

146 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

An organic defect of the earliest statutes of California that 
has usually escaped the attention of historians was the provision 
that deprived local justices of the peace of any criminal juris- 
diction beyond the office of examining magistrate, and referred 
trial for all petty misdemeanors to the Court of Sessions, which 
met at the county seat once in every two months.-^ The effect 
of such a system upon criminal conditions in the mining regions 
was inevitably disastrous. It was the duty of the local justice 
of the peace to arrest suspected persons; if evidence justified 
their commitment for trial, he was then bound to deliver them 
to the sheriff of the county.^^ This necessitated the transpor- 
tation of the prisoner to the county seat, which was often far 
away from the scene of the offense, since some of the counties 
were as large as states on the Atlantic seaboard.-^ In many 
cases the journey could be made only on horseback, and it af- 
forded countless opportunities for escape or rescue. 

Moreover, for the prosecution of such trivial misdemeanors 
as breach of the peace, assault and battery, and petty larceny. 

from Avhich prisoners easily escaped (Illustrations of Contra Costa County, 
12). In 1851 Auburn had a log jail for a county prison (History of Placer 
County, 97). W. B. Ide, justice of the peace at Monroeville, Colusa 
County, in 1852, built an iron cage for the confinement of prisoners, and 
placed it out of doors in the shade of a tree (J. H. Rogers, Colusa County, 
1891, pp. 77-78). In 1849 Riley had proposed to devote some funds to 
improving jails (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 561, Doc. 52, pp. 19, 20, 37-38). 

26 The Court of Sessions was composed of the county judge and two 
assistant justices of the peace. It w^as also entrusted with the duties which 
at present usually devolve upon a board of supervisors (California, Statutes, 
1850, chap. 86, p. 210; Rodman, History of the Bench and Bar of Southern 
Calif orni<i, 38). 

27 California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 44, p. 118, sec. 3. Some justices seem 
to have exercised criminal jurisdiction, as did the illiterate Richard C. 
Barry, of Sonora, whose docket is a wonderful specimen of the public 
archives of 1850 (History of Tuolumne County [by Lang], 65-70; Ban- 
croft, California, VI, 470; and his Calif ornia Inter Pocula, 630-633). ''The 
jurisdiction of justices of the peace in 1850 to 1851, who were then the 
only judicial officers known in these diggings, was a little shadowy, or very 
substantial, as the reader pleases" (History of Nevada County, 99). See 
also the tales of Justice Bonner, of Butte County (Illustrated History of 
Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, 1882, pp. 208-209). 

28 Coy's Guide to the County Archives contains maps showing the 
boundaries of the original twenty-seven counties, and subsequent changes. 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 147 

it was necessary that the witnesses also should take the same 
journey, and remain in attendance upon the trial while counsel 
gained postponement after postponement. If the crime was 
of a serious nature it was tried in one of the District Courts, 
which also met at the county seats, and held from three to five 
terms a year. In such cases an indictment by the grand jury 
was a prerequisite to trial.^^ All these vexatious delays not 
only burdened witnesses with the cost of living at wretched and 
expensive inns, but they involved the risk of forfeiting mining 
claims because of protracted absence and cessation of work.^^ 
Under these circumstances it proved to be impossible to keep 
witnesses together for the slow progress of law, and any prisoner 
was almost sure of discharge if his lawyer could sufficiently 
retard the prosecution of his case. 

In the mining regions, where improvement was most imper- 
ative, state control failed most signally to accomplish any imme- 
diate betterment. As soon as counties could be organized and 
local magistrates elected, all the offices peculiar to the Mexican 
system were discontinued. Justices of the peace and judges 
of the lower courts took the places of the alcaldes, who from 
that time had no legal status in California, although for some 
years they were occasionally chosen to supply the immediate 
needs of new and remote settlements.^^ 

In 1850 Yuba County was so large, and the ''trouble, expense and time 
required to send criminals to Marysville were so great, that many escaped 
the just punishments for their acts, while others were severely dealt with 
by Judge Lynch" {Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Coun- 
ties, 423). 

29 See California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 33, p. 93, chap. 119, p. 288, sec. 
176. The District Courts took cognizance, also, of civil and chancery cases. 
They superseded the Mexican Courts of First Instance (ihid., chap. 23, 
p. 80, sec. 28). 

30 No fees were allowed witnesses in criminal cases (California, Statutes, 
1850, chap. 138, p. 421, sec. 15). The Alta, 1851, Oct. 15 %, noted the 
impossibility of securing the attendance of witnesses under these circum- 

31 See Shinn, Mining Camps, 187. The miners of Chinese Camp appointed 
an alcalde and a sheriff in September, 1850 (Heckendorn & Wilson, Miners 
4- Business Men's Directory . . . 1856 . ..of Tuolumne, 83). John Carr spoke 

148 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The old alcalde had usually been a fellow-worker among his 
constituents, with personal interests identical with theirs. The 
new justice often belonged to the class of political loafers. He 
had, moreover, an assurance in office that had not existed under 
a system that swiftly recalled unpopular alcaldes as soon as a 
majority of the camp might vote to do so. In consequence there 
was no longer the close accord between executive and community 
that had characterized the earlier organization. 

Up to this time any given camp had enjoyed such security 
of life and property as the majority of its residents chose to 
enforce by the rules of mass meetings and the discipline of 
miners' courts. Now the exercise of criminal jurisdiction was 
removed from local control, for the justice of the peace could 
do no more than examine prisoners and if he saw fit hand them 
over to the sheriff of the county for arraignment in the proper 
court. This act of transfer immediately removed the criminal 
from the persons interested in his punishment, so that unless 
his offense had been particularly heinous, his fate became a 
matter of indifference to his former neighbors. In cases where 
popular indignation had been highly inflamed the notorious mis- 
carriage of justice in the courts gave rise to a universal distrust 
of legal procedure, and incited the miners to administer retri- 
bution for themselves. 

The increasing disorder aroused a spirit of resentment 
against the authorities that resembled the antagonism expressed 
during the period of the military control. The majority of the 
men of the mining camps in the fall of 1850 were of the same 
fiber as were the men of 1849 ; many of them were the same 
individuals who had conducted the popular trials which had 

of a trial before a California alcalde, probably in February or March, 1851, 
and said that no one in "Weaverville paid any attention to politics or law, 
until about June, 1851, when the camp was stirred to curiosity by the advent 
of a party of horsemen who looked too well dressed to be miners and too 
honest to be gamblers, and who proved to be candidates for the of&ces 
recently created for the new county of Trinity {Pioneer Bays, 116, 128). 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 149 

preserved California from overwhelming anarchy and blood- 
shed. In their sovereign capacity, and out of the elements of 
chaos, they had formed a state, ordained laws, and appointed 
servants to execute the will of the people. Yet in spite of their 
labors they found the servants inefficient or unfaithful, and 
the laws so poorly adapted to the special needs of the community, 
and so poorly executed withal, that crime increased, while rob- 
bers and murderers laughed at statutes and courts, and at jails 
and jailers. 

The ideals of popular sovereignty had not perished from 
the land when the cannon of Monterey announced the signing of 
the state constitution. History has shown that the conception 
of government as a social compact holds in itself the germ of 
potential secession. It is equally true that the conception of 
social order accomplished and preserved solely by the concurrent 
consent of the individual community contains the- dormant men- 
ace of disorder. It is not only upon the unorganized frontier 
of American settlement that this dormant menace has been 
transformed into an active force. The tendency to deal with 
criminals through popular tribunals steadily accompanied what 
may be called the rearguard of the western advance, a zone of 
unstable conditions where the voluntary and temporary associa- 
tions of the foremost pioneers were nominally superseded by a 
laggard civil organization. Here lingered competent and fearless 
men who had by their own swiftly spoken words evoked laws 
out of a cosmic void, and their social conscience gave fealty, 
not to the rules they had thus formulated, but to the purposes 
which had vitalized their rules — the preservation of life and 
property. When formal laws, once established, failed to accom- 
plish these purposes, their impulse was quick to ignore the 
inefficient laws, and to revert to a direct and popular method 
of effecting the necessary results. 

150 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

Such an impulse was very apparent in California in the later 
months of 1850. The people recognized the failure of the courts 
to restrain crime, and showed a strong tendency, especially in 
the mining regions, to adhere to the popular tribunals that had 
proved effective in the previous year. They came together as 
of old in the miners' meetings, to regulate their mining claims. 
They had never drawn any nice distinctions between the civil 
and the criminal functions of such meetings; so they now de- 
sired to have suspected offenders still tried on the scene of their 
alleged guilt, and tried so promptly that honest men might go 
about their business without unreasonable delay, and they began 
to resent the interference of a sheriff whose duty it was to re- 
move the criminals from their control.^- 

Conflicts over the possession of a prisoner became common 
and when they occurred the sheriff of the county faced a situ- 
ation that tested him to the utmost, for he was obliged to decide, 
often at a moment's notice, whether he would attempt a rescue 
at the risk of several lives. In many instances he was convinced 
that the accused was a murderer who richly deserved death, and 
that those who contemplated immediate execution were stirred 
by the most righteous indignation. It then seemed like a mock- 
ery of justice to shoot men whom he knew and respected in order 
to place a cowardly assassin before a court which would prob- 
ably condone his offense. In any case, whether the prisoner 
were guilty or innocent, the sheriff was aware that the local 
community would never complain if he yielded to the mob, and 
that the state authorities could neither reprove him if he gave 

32 In 1850 or 1851 the miners at Sandy Bar acquitted a suspected mur- 
derer, and then took advantage of the large gathering to decide on the 
disposition of mining debris (C. S. Abbott, Becollections of a California 
Pioneer, 1917, p. 104). For instances of popular trials at this time, see 
History of Nevada County, 98, 105 ; Carr, Pioneer Days, 60-67 ; Memoirs 
of Cornelius Cole, 85-91 ; William Downie, Hunting for Gold, 1893, pp. 111- 
113, 145. 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 151 

way nor help him if he chose to resist.^^ Some sheriffs forfeited 
their lives in their determination to do their duty. Many car- 
ried off their men even when the odds were all against them. 
Many others gave way before the angry crowds and left the 
prisoners to trials by lynch law. 

But a profound difference existed between the popular trib- 
unals of the days of the commonwealth and those that had been 
held during the interregnum. The miners' trials of 1849, con- 
ducted in sincere although uncouth emulation of the courts of 
justice, represented the popular adherence to the spirit of Law, 
to the principle of the trial by jury, and loyalty to the will of 
the majority. When the same men assembled in the autumn 
of 1850, arraigning, perhaps, the same culprits, for the same 
sort of crimes, they were no longer the symbol of the Law — 
that was represented by the sheriff and the dilatory courts. 
Then the miners ' tribunals, pitted against the constituted author- 
ities, lost their dignity and their ideals of deliberate justice in 
conducting a struggle for the possession of a prisoner, and in 
making a hurried disposition of his fate. Inevitably they de- 
generated into angry mobs, that hastened to whip or to hang the 
accused before the sheriff could intervene, or that stormed a jail 
to recover a prisoner, and to forestall punishment or acquittal 
by the courts.^* 

33 When a sheriff in an American state was rebuked by the governor for 
permitting- a lynching, the governor was bluntly told to mind his own 
business, as the sheriff was responsible only to the voters who had elected 
him (Woodrow Wilson, '^ Issues of Eeform, " in Imtiative, Referendum and 
Recall, edited by W. B. Munro, 1912, p. 72). It is of interest to note here 
the following statement from the Herald, 1851, July 18 %: ''The Sheriffs 
throughout the country have been more true to the interests of the people, 
and more honest in the discharge of their duty than any other class of 
officials. We know of but two instances in the State in which the Sheriff 
has come under the ban of public censure." 

3* The Alta recorded many murders and lynchings during the autumn of 
1850. See also Popular Tribunals, I, 142-178; G. H. Tinkham, History of 
Stockton, 1880, pp. 155-158. The lynch law of this period forms the theme 
of The Volcano Diggings; a Tale of California Law [by Leonard Kip], 

152 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

In the Alt a California, September 16, 1850, a contrast was 
drawn between the comparative safety of life and property in 
the mines under the '' prompt and substantial justice of 1849" 
and the frequent robberies and murders currently reported. The 
writer asserted that, although the better portion of the popu- 
lation had hailed with delight the advent of law as safer than 
the local practices which necessity had compelled, the statutes 
had proved so inefficient, and so poorly adapted to the migratory 
character of the community, that the courts failed to punish 
offenders and prevent crime ; bail was habitually forfeited, re- 
arrest was almost impossible, and trials could be postponed by 
technicalities until the absence of witnesses made acquittal in- 
evitable. Throughout the state clever, premeditated robberies 
and murders formed a menace to security far more dangerous 
than the more impulsive crimes of an earlier period. 

Peter H. Burnett made an excellent summary of the problems 
of the time when he said :^^ 

For some eight or ten years after the organization of our State gov- 
ernment, the administration of the criminal laws was exceedingly defective 
and ineflacient. This arose mainly from the following causes: 

1. Defective laws and imperfect organization of the Courts; 2. The 
incompetency of the district attorneys, who were generally young men 
without an adequate knowledge of the law; 3. The want of secure county 
prisons, there being no penitentiary during most of that time; 4. The 
great expense of keeping prisoners and convicts in the county jails; 5. The 
diflSculty of enforcing the attendance of witnesses; 6. The difficulty of 
securing good jurymen, there being so large a proportion of reckless, sour, 
disappointed, and unprincipled men then in the country; 7. The unsettled 
state of our land-titles, which first induced so many men to squat upon 
the lands of the grantees of Spain and Mexico, and then to steal their 
cattle to live upon. . . . 

It was the extremely defective administration of criminal justice in 
California for some years that led to the organization of so many vigilance 
committees, and filled the courts of Judge Lynch with so many cases. 

When the second legislature assembled in San Jose on Jan- 
uary 6, 1851, Governor Burnett in his annual message alluded 
35 Burnett, Becollections, 386, 390. 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 153 

to many of the serious problems of the state, and proposed some 
desirable reforms,^*^ but he did not remain in office to assist in 
the work he had considered so important. He resigned January 
9, giving as his only excuse vague obligations of personal busi- 
ness.^^ No satisfactory explanation of the resignation has been 
made in the meager chronicles of the times. Judge E. 0. Crosby, 
who was thoroughly familiar with the problems of the day, felt 
that Burnett lacked the self-confidence and assertiveness neces- 
sary to hold his own against the more astute demagogues. Al- 
fred A. Green, another prominent San Franciscan, said plainly 
that the ' ' Tammany ' ' element was too powerful for the governor 
and was hostile to him on account of his honest opposition to 
land frauds in San Francisco.^^ John McDougal, the lieutenant- 
governor who succeeded Burnett, was somewhat skilful as a 
politician, but he lacked personal force in times of crisis, his 
habits were dissipated, and he became a tool in the hands of 
corrupt men.^^ It was most unfortunate for the development 
of California that after its citizens had placed in office a man 
of honorable principles, any influence, either private or public, 
should have forced him to relinquish his important responsibili- 
ties into unscrupulous hands, and to abandon the entire machine 
of government to selfishness and ambition. 

To fill the vacancy created by McDougal's promotion the 
senate elected as its president David C. Broderick, whose ability 
had already been recognized. From that time until his death 
Broderick was a dominant figure in the history of the state. 

The legislature made some alterations in the statutes which 
may be noted here, although several of them did not become 

36 Journals of the California Legislature, 1851, pp. 22-23. 

37 Burnett, Becollections, 377. 

38 See Crosby, MS Statement, 47-49, and Green, MS Life and Adven- 
tures, 25; Hittell, California, IV, 60-64, 87. 

39 Bancroft said that in 1856 McDougal was arrested for election frauds 
{Popular Tribunals, I, 130). 

154 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

effective until July, 1851.*° Justices of the peace were given 
jurisdiction over minor offenses, and it was provided that their 
courts should be open continuously/^ This change permitted 
prompt trial of misdemeanors, and corrected one of the most 
flagrant defects in the earlier laws. Criminal cases might be 
appealed from the justice of the peace to the Court of Sessions, 
which also had jurisdiction over all more serious crimes, except 
murder, manslaughter, and arson. The last named offenses and 
all criminal cases not otherwise provided for were still under 
the jurisdiction of the District Court, which had, in addition, 
appellate jurisdiction over criminal judgments found by the 
Court of Sessions. These measures, generally designated as the 
Civil and Criminal Practice acts, proved so efficient that, with 
necessary modifications, they remained in force for many years, 
and served as models for other states and territories west of the 
Rocky Mountains.*^ 

Acting on a recommendation of Governor Burnett, and on a 
petition from the citizens of El Dorado County, who prayed 
that horse stealing should be made a capital offense,*^ the legis- 
lature passed an act that permitted a jury to impose the death 
penalty for robbery and grand larceny.*"^ The bill originated in 
the senate, where it was vigorously opposed by Broderick and 
three others, but passed by a vote of eight to four. It passed 
the assembly without delay, and a motion to reconsider it there 
was lost by a vote of seventeen to nine.*^ The same bill per- 

40 Especially an Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State and 
Judicial Officers (California, Statutes, 1851, chap. 1, p. 9) ; an Act to 
regulate Proceedings in Civil Cases {ibid., chap. 5, p. 51) ; an Act to regulate 
Proceedings in Criminal Cases (ibid., chap. 29, p. 212). 

41 California, Statutes, 1851, chap. 1, p. 23, sec. 90. The civil jurisdiction 
of justices' courts was also modified. 

42 See Some Account of the Worh of Stephen J. Field [edited by C. T. 
Black and S. B. Smith], 1881, pp. 19-20; Hittell, California, IV, 67. 

43 Journals of the California Legislature, 1851, pp. 91, 101, 1412. 

44 Calif ornia, Statutes, 1851, chap. 95, p. 406. 

45 See Journals of the Calif ornia Legislature, 1851, pp. 286, 1422, 1426. 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 155 

mitted, at the discretion of the jury, a punishment of fifty lashes 
for petit larceny. The statute remained in force until 1856,*^ 
and several felons were executed under its provision. Professor 
Royce used the law as the text for this severe arraignment of 
the spirit of the lawmakers:*'^ 

So far did this trust in hanging as a cure for theft go, that in the 
second legislature, that of 1851, an act was passed making hanging for 
grand larceny a penalty to be thenceforth regularly imposed at the 
pleasure of the convicting jury. So easy is it for men to sanction their 
blunders by the help of a little printers' ink, used for the publication of 
a statute. 

Correcting an error of Shinn in regard to the date and 
duration of the statute,**^ Royce continued : 

The matter [of the date] ... is of some importance, because it shows 
that the law did not first encourage the lynchers, but that only after the 
extravagances of popular justice had for some time flourished, it was found 
possible to load the statute book with an entirely useless and demoralizing 

That criticism is hardly justified ; a study of the measure reveals 
that it was suggested by the governor of the state as a tem- 
porary and deplorable substitute for the customary terms of 
imprisonment, that it was passed by large majorities in both 
houses, after full discussion, that it was seldom invoked by 
juries, and was repealed as soon as jails could be constructed 
and the emergency relieved.*^ 

46 See California, Statutes, 1856, chap. 139, p. 220. 

47 Eoyce, California, 337-338. 

48 Shinn, Mining Camps, 228. Perhaps copied from Tinkham, Hisiory 
of Stockton, 161. 

49 See Hittell, California, IV, 70-71 ; and his General Laws of the State 
of California, I, sees. 1459-1461. The following executions under this statute 
have come to my attention. John Thompson and James Gibson, for highway 
robbery and assault, in Sacramento, Aug. 22, 1851. A companion named 
William Eobinson or Heppard, sentenced for the same day, and reprieved 
by the governor, was hanged by a mob (History of Sacramento County, 
126. See also infra, p. 378). James Wilson and Frederick Salkmyer, horse 
thieves, in San Joaquin County, November, 1851 (Herald, 1851, November 

156 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

One of the trials that took place under this law affords vivid 
illustration of the makeshifts imposed on the county courts. 
While William B. Ide was acting as a justice of the peace in 
Colusa County he examined and committed a man for the crime 
of horse stealing, and later, as county judge, presided at his 
trial. The prisoner had no counsel and no licensed attorney 
was procurable, so Ide volunteered to serve him in that capacity. 
The offer was accepted and in the absence of any prosecuting 
attorney Ide acted as counsel for the people, counsel for the 
defendant, and presiding judge. The verdict was guilty, with 
the penalty of death, which Ide solemnly pronounced, but the 
prisoner was subsequently pardoned by the governor. The anec- 
dote was vouched for by Judge J. C. Huls,^^ one of the associate 
justices, and it seems to be confirmed by the entries in the 
Minutes of the Court of Sessions in Criminal Business, October 
Term, 1851, which are preserved in the archives at Colusa. They 
contain this item in the record of the trial of one Joseph Wilson 
for grand larceny :^^ ''The prisoner having been informed of 
his Wright to counsil there being no counsil the Court surved 
him as sutch. ' ' The case continues in accordance with the story 
as told by Huls. 

30 %; Tinkham, History of StocMon, p. 162). Jose Corrales, for horse 
stealing, Sonora, Jan. 7, 1852 {History of Tuolumne County [by Lang], 
149). Theodore Basquez, for horse stealing, San Jose, Jan. 30, 1852 (Hall, 
History of San Jose, 250). John Barrett, or Garrat, for robbery, Nevada 
County, July 16, 1852 (History of Nevada County, 107-108; Bancroft, 
California, VII, 195 7iote 3). George Tanner, for grand larceny, Marysville. 
July 23, 1852 (Herald, 1852, March 23 3/.- May 15 %; July 25 %; San 
Francisco Chronicle, 1904, May 22, magazine p. 5 ; " The People vs. George 
Tanner," Second California Eeports, 257-261). A Mexican convicted of 
grand larceny at Martinez was sentenced to be hanged July 8, 1852 (Herald, 
May 12 %), but his execution is not recorded in the list given in the Illus- 
trations of Contra Costa, 21. 

50 History of Colusa County, 1880, pp. 46-47. 

51 From a transcript of the Minutes in the collection of O. C Coy. In 
November, 1851, Ide acted as judge of the County Court and Court of 
Sessions, as clerk of both, and of the District Court, as county recorder, 
and county auditor (Biographical Sicetch, 230). 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 157 

The humorous reminiscence of the pioneer judge, and the 
grotesque souvenir of his court, must not divert our attention 
from the fact that just such men as Ide and the clerk of his 
court, by the sheer force of their common sense and their lay- 
man's acquaintance with American precedent, formed and vital- 
ized a body politic out of the nebulous swarm of the hundred 
thousand independent atoms of 1849. The great majority of 
these hundred thousand men came to California to dig a fortune 
from the earth, but as incidental accessories of their miners' 
outfits they carried such a knowledge of political constitutions 
and of legal codes that they were able, by the close of the first 
legislature, to equip a state with the full mechanism of govern- 
ment, and by the close of the second to correct the defects most 
obvious in the hasty adjustment .^^ 

In those early months of statehood the interests of the com- 
monwealth were still, in a fashion, incidental accessories of 
mining and commercial life. The pioneer did not yet regard 
El Dorado as his permanent home. All local problems were 
but the responsibilities of a moment, to be met hastily, yet in 
a spirit that would secure his own rights and give fair play to 
his neighbor. The exercise of such a spirit was in|itself a dis- 
cipline in social life. One of the most interesting comments 
made on Calif ornian influences was recorded by the artist Borth- 
wick, who subsequent to a long visit in the state resided on the 
Isthmus of Nicaragua, and there had opportunity to observe 
that homeward bound miners ''of the lower ranks of life" were 
far more orderly, more considerate, more alert to social obliga- 
tions, and more amenable to the regulations of the voyage than 

52 ' < It may be safely asserted that no new country ever received as sud- 
denly, such a large population, so well fitted in every regard to found a 
great nation, as have poured into it [California] from the States" (Tyson, 
Geology and Industrial Besources of California, Introduction, xxxiii). "The 
conduct of the better portion of the inhabitants illustrates the force of 
American political ideas when displayed in a new land amid new con- 
ditions" (Thorpe, Constitutional History of the American People, II, 289). 

158 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

were the same class of men from the rougher localities of the 
eastern interior who crossed the isthmus on their way to the 

But the pioneer was still an individualist of the deepest dye. 
He did not visualize himself as the keeper of his weaker brother 
or the guardian and tutor of a future generation. Whatever 
might be his own habits of self-control, or of license, he tolerated 
in his associates any manner of life that was not absolutely de- 
structive to the peace of the community, and the clergymen 
delivered sermons in the saloon and the barkeeper offered hos- 
pitality to the preacher with the same mutual allowance for 
personal liberty that had recognized the right of the whole camp 
to share in the deliberations of the miners' meeting. ^^ The 
pioneer left other men to set their own moral standards and to 
manage their own affairs, and in holding himself aloof from 
the personal life of his neighbor he detached himself, consciously 
or unconsciously, from the civic life of his community, except 
in the crises when public disorder became a menace to his indi- 
vidual interests. 

The mining camps were always of such an unstable nature 
that the temporary residents had little incentive to make per- 
sonal sacrifices for the improvement of general conditions, and 
the growing towns, wdth a more permanent total of population, 
were still so shifting in their units that any spirit of common 
enthusiasm and loyalty was a slow development. The incorpor- 
ated cities — Sonora, Benicia, Monterey, San Jose, Sacramento, 

53 Borthwick, Three Years, 149-150. H. J. Coke, an Englishman, wrote 
of one of his experiences in 1851: ''I found myself about to pass a night 
in a small tent designated the 'miners' home,' in which over forty of these 
gentlemen were assembled to drink, board and lodge . . . only one unarmed. 
But strange to say, I never saw a more orderly congregation, or such good 
behaviour in such bad company" {Bide over the Eochy Mountains, 1852, 
pp. 359-360). 

54 See Eev. William Taylor, California Life Illustrated, 300 ; Rev. James 
Woods, Recollections of Pioneer Worlc in California, 1878, p. 140. Borth- 
wick said that California was a community of isolated individuals, each 
regardless of the opinion of his neighbor {Three Years, 67). 

The Failure to Establish Social Control 159 

and San Francisco — made definite efforts towards municipal im- 
provement, but everywhere the mad rush of feverish speculation 
absorbed the men of the state in unremitting attention to busi- 

Even in San Francisco there w^ere no citizens of assured 
incomes, much less of independent leisure, who could occupy 
themselves with altruistic social service. Every sunrise might 
be the herald of fortune or ruin, turning on the hazard of wind 
and tide, of fire or fiood, and many merchants slept, like cats, 
in their tiny offices, that they might roll from their blankets 
with the dawn and profit by the added hours of commercial 
opportunity.^^ They did not spend their overcrowded days wait- 
ing in the criminal courts to serve as jurymen in the trials 
of brawlers of the gambling house and thieves of the water front. 
They did not devote themselves to the petty politics of their 
city wards. With the long desired franchise of American citi- 
zens safely within their grasp, they forgot the dangers and 
clamors of the interregnum, and neglected to defend the court 
and ballot box from the manipulation of unworthy hands. 

55 W. T. Saywarcl, of San Francisco, who purchased gold dust from the 
miners arriving from Sacramento on the night boats, said that he often 
handled $5000 or $10,000 worth of dust before the banks opened at nine 
o'clock {Statement, [1877?], 13-14, MS in the Bancroft Library). A 
mason who built chimneys in San Francisco at $15 a day, wrote home to 
Nantucket that time was so valuable he could not afford to dot his i's or 
cross his t's (B. H. Nve, ''Letters," History Teachers' Magazine, VI 
[1915], 211). 







San Francisco was always the center of life and interests 
in California. Very early in the months of 1851 it became the 
scene of exciting and disturbing events. 

For some time after the suppression of the Hounds in July, 
1849, and the subsequent election of the reform ayuntamiento, 
the town had been free from political sensations and compara- 
tively safe from acts of violence.^ Alcalde Geary and his council 
had given a conservative and honest administration, but their 
term was too brief to accomplish many improvements, for Riley's 
proclamation of June 4, 1849, provided that the officers elected 
in August should serve only until the close of that year. When 
the next election took place, January 8, 1850, the Mexican system 
was still in force ; the first and second alcaldes were returned to 
office, five members of the mjuntamviento were re-elected and 
seven new members chosen.^ 

On April 15, 1850, San Francisco was incorporated by act 
of the legislature,^ and on May first the citizens approved the 
charter and elected the officers for which it called. Alcalde 
Geary was chosen mayor, and Frank Tilford, a member of the 
last ayuntamiento, was made recorder.* All other positions were 

1 G. E. Schenck, later a member of the Committee of Vigilance, said that 
from November, 1849, to February, 1850, everything seemed to be quiet in 
San Francisco, there was little robbery, and both life and property were safe, 
although personal quarrels between gamblers and their ilk were not uncom- 
mon. He recollected that a safe containing some $25,000 or $30,000 stood 
unmolested outside an office on Clay street, near Montgomery (Statement 
on the Vigilance Committee, 1877, pp. 22, 48, MS in the Bancroft Library). 
See also Johnson, California and Oregon; or Sights in the Gold Region, 215. 

2 See Annals, 265-266. Great confusion attended the election. 

3 California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 98, p. 223. 

4 The recorder of a city had jurisdiction over violations of the city 
ordinances, and exercised other powers similar to those of a justice of the 
peace (California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 98, p. 225, sees. 11, 12). 

164 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

filled by new men.^ Three city elections in the space of ten 
months had obliterated the reform movement initiated at the 
time of the Hounds excitement. The rapid development of 
party and personal issues made the campaigns increasingly 
strenuous, and it was not possible for merchants whose business 
demanded the most alert attention to devote themselves so con- 
tinuously to city politics. 

The men who were elected had unusual difficulties to face. 
San Francisco not only changed its officers with unprecedented 
frequency but during the period from December, 1849, to Sep- 
tember, 1850, the city suffered four devastating fires, each of 
which swept away block after block from the center of the town 
and necessitated emergency measures of considerable magnitude.^ 
Heavy expenses were also incurred in improving streets and 
wharves, in acquiring public offices, and in commencing the 
erection of a county jail. Unfortunately, in all these depart- 
ments city funds were spent lavishly and unwisely, while the 
official salaries were placed at an exorbitant figure. 

The citizens were not indifferent to this mismanagement. 
They held large indignation meetings and adopted resolutions 
instructing the councilmen to revise their financial policy or to 
retire from office in compliance with the ^'sovereign will" of 
the people of the city. The fire of June 14, 1850, interrupted 
the work of a committee that had been charged with the delivery 

5 See Annals, 273. The follo-vving future members of the Committee of 
Vigilance were elected : Charles Minturn, William Sharon, Robert B. Hamp- 
ton, Francis C. Bennett, John P. Haff. John Middleton was subsequently 
elected to fill a vacancy. 

6 The successive fires were described, as follows, in the Annals, 241, 275, 
277, 290, 598-613. First, Dec, 24, 1849. Destroyed nearly all the buildings 
on the east side of the Plaza, and the south side of Washington Street, 
between Montgomery and Kearny. Damage over $1,000,000. Second, 
May 4, 1850. Destroyed about three blocks, between Montgomery and 
Dupont, Clay and Jackson streets. Damage nearly $4,000,000. Supposed 
to be incendiary. Third, June 14, 1850. Burned the whole space between 
Clay and California streets to the water's edge. Damage, nearly $5,000,000. 
Fourth, Sept. 17, 1850. Swept the district between Dupont, Montgomery, 
Washington and Pacific streets. Damage about $300,000. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 165 

of the resolutions, but the obnoxious salaries were ultimately 
reduced."^ In spite of this the indebtedness of the city increased 
rapidly. Payments of accounts were made in scrip, which 
greatly depreciated in value and became a prolific source of 
scandal owing to the manipulation of speculators and of un- 
scrupulous officials.^ 

San Francisco by this time had spread far beyond the limits 
of the little town over which the Stars and Stripes were raised 
in 1846. The old Plaza, where that ceremony took place, was 
thenceforth officially known as Portsmouth Square, though the 
Spanish name still lingered in common use. All the early build- 
ings about it had been burned, with the exception of the "Old 
Adobe" on the northwest corner, which had formerly been used 
for public purposes and was subsequently rented for private 
business.^ This landmark of the past was elbowed by the frame 
structures of the hour: the postoffice, the city hall improvised 
from the old Graham House, and a host of saloons and gambling 
resorts, of which the El Dorado, on the corner of Kearny and 
Washington streets, was the most gaudy and notorious. In front 
of the Adobe rose a flagstaff, one hundred and eleven feet high, 
a gift from the people of Portland, Oregon.^^ The unkempt 
and dusty space about it served as a rallying point for the mass 
meetings which for many years were a feature of the city. 

North, east, and south of the Plaza ran the narrow streets 
of the business section, rescued from engulfing mud by wooden 

7 See Annals, 278-281; Moses, Establishment of Munioipal Government, 
61-71; Bancroft, California, VI, 215-220; Hittell, California, III, 367-369. 

8 By March, 1851, the liabilities of the city were $1,099,577.56, and on 
May 1, the legislature passed an act to authorize the funding of the floating 
debt of the city of San Francisco, and to provide for its payment (Califor- 
nia, Statutes, 1851, chap. 88, p. 387). See also Hittell, California, III, 
395-399; Annals, 327-328. 

9 The Old Adobe was built in 1835, and was occupied by the Mexican 
officials. It was one of the three pre- '49 buildings that survived the fire 
of May 4, 1851, and it met its end in the fire of June 22. See Alta, 1851, 
June 1 %; 27 %; Eldredge, San Francisco, II, 529. 

^0 AiinaJs, 281. The city was charged $100 for digging the hole, and 
$200 for rigging the halyards (Alta, 1851, March 25 %). 

166 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

sidewalks from which the unwary might easily plunge waist 
deep into treacherous pools. On the eastern water front the 
streets reached out over the bay in wharves which bore lodging 
houses and offices, while other buildings, supported on piles, 
hovered above the unfilled water lots. Reclamation work was in 
vigorous progress. Behind the protection of the line of sand 
hills south of Market street, in a quarter known as Happy 
Valley,^^ a dredger christened the Steam Paddy^^ tore down 
the dunes. Cars impelled by gravity transported the sand 
through Battery Street and dumped it to fill the shallows of 
Yerba Buena Cove. Already the vessel Niantic, moored at San- 
some and Clay streets, and converted into a large hotel, was well 
removed from high tide, and the hulks of other ships, deserted 
in the gold rush, lay forgotten beneath the new ground.^^ Still 
others, moored near shore, served as store ships for the receipt 
of merchandise, or made more comfortable homes than could be 
found on land. 

Telegraph Hill flanked the city on the north, and around 
its slopes clustered the wretched hovels of Little Chile and 
Sydney Valley, in which foregathered undesirable aliens from 
South America and Australia.^* On the other side of Telegraph 
Hill, towards the Presidio, lay North Beach, with a small wharf 
and planing mill owned by Williams & Meiggs. About this 

11 Poorer immigrants camped in Happy Valley to avoid exorbitant rents 
nearer the Plaza. Poverty, dirt, and dissipation rendered the place the scene 
of misery and disease. See Ryan, Personal Adventures, II, 270-275. 

12 See Borthwick, Three Years, 80. The editor of the Alia, 1851, June 
10 %, suggested that a medal be awarded this incorruptible assistant in 
civic improvement. In spite of its personal name it was solemnly assured 
by a jealous Irishman: *'If you can do the work of a hundred men, you 
can't vote! " (J. E. Garniss, i:arly Days of San Francisco, 1877, p. 30, MS 
in the Bancroft Library). 

13 See Eldredge, San Francisco, II, 578-580. Relics of such built-in 
vessels are still unearthed beneath the streets of the city. 

1* The Alta described the foreign quarters, 1851, June 29 %. The article 
did not tally exactly with the map in Fopular Tribunals, I, which served 
as a guide for the map in the Committee of Vigilance Papers, III. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 167 

point was another settlement of rough and dangerous charac- 
ters.^^ South of Market street rose Rincon Hill, soon to become 
the first fashionable residence district ; starting from Market and 
Second streets, the Plank Road wound out to the Mission Dolores, 
affording the one comfortable driveway in the whole vicinity.^^ 
The population at this time was about 23,000,^^ gathered 
from all the ends of the earth.^^ To this number must be added 
a constant swarm of non-residents, rushing from their ships to 
the mines, and then back again to take passage to other ports. 
The streets were filled with hurrying men; with laborers who 
piled freight upon sidewalks and vacant lots; with auctioneers 
who sold it on the instant; and with purchasers who removed 
it before nightfall. Reckless drivers dashed through the streets, 
pack animals struggled and fell under heavy loads, horsemen 
with a touch of Mexican color rode splendidly through the busy 
crowd, Chinamen chattered and shuffled along the wooden walks, 
while every shade of black and brown humanity known to the 
tropic sun drifted in and out of the barrooms and worked along 
the wharves. Far into the night lights from auction houses, 
saloons, and gambling halls streamed into the murk of drifting 

15 The mill owners were Edwards C. Williams and John G. Meiggs. The 
small wharf was later replaced by a larger one, projected by Meiggs' brother, 
Henry, a spectacular financier who became a fugitive from his commercial 

16 See Ammls, 296-298; J. S. Hittell, San Franoisco, 151-153. 

17 The statistics relative to the growth of San Francisco are approxi- 
mate, but the following references may be of interest. 

1846, midsummer, over 200, Annals, 173. 

1847, June, 459. Census taken by Lieutenant Edward Gilbert, J. S. 
Hittell, San Francisco, 117. 

1848, March, 812. School census, California Star, 1848, March 18. 
See also Annals, 174. 

1849, Feb., about 2000, Ammls, 219. 

July, about 5000, constantly changing. Annals, 226. 

1850, May, about 40,000, Johnson, Sights in the Gold Region, 210. 
Over 36,000 arrived by sea in 1850, one half from foreign ports, 
Annals, 300. 

1851, Jan., 23,000, Alta, 1851, Feb. 7 %. 

18 A cemetery on Eussian Hill showed inscriptions in thirteen languages 
(Herald, 1852, Dec. 12 %). 

168 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

fog; otherwise the city lay in darkness/^ and evildoers crept 
unnoticed in the shadows or slipped noiselessly out over the 
Bay, where scarcely a beacon gleamed to direct or safeguard the 
shipping from a hundred ports. 

Among the many descriptions of San Francisco, the picture 
presented by Edouard Auger, though little known today, de- 
serves wider recognition. He spoke of it as :^^ 

Cette merveilleuse cite, bazar de toutes les nations du globe, creation 
spontanee comme une de ces oeuvres fantastiques des Mille et une Nuites 
* * * * ou les mineurs et les aventuriers de toutes sortes apportent sans cesse 
leur or, leurs passions, leur activite febrile et desordonnee. San-Francisco 
est la ville aux transformations brutales, aux changements de decors a 
vue; hier cite florissante, aujourd'hui monceau de cendres. Eepassez dans 
un mois, vous retrouverez a la meme place une autre ville avec ses rues 
bien alignees, ses magasins regorgeant de marchandises, ses temples, ses 
theatres, ses cafes, et une population affairee qui parle de tout, excepte 
d'une catastrophe qui a deja un mois de date. 

In 1851 San Francisco had about half a dozen churches,^ ^ 
and eight daily newspapers ;^^ among the latter, the San Fran- 
cisco Herald and the Alta California were the most important, 
with the Evening Picayune and the California Courier in the 
second rank. 

There was, as yet, no public fire department. Volunteer 
companies had been formed after the first great fires, and had 

19 The first street lights were installed by J. B. M. Crooks (Vigilante of 
1851). The fire of May, 1851, destroyed them, and they were not replaced 
for some time (Herald, 1851, Oct. 16 %; Hittell, Calif ornia, III, 424; 
Annals, 518). 

20 Auger, Voyage en Calif ornie, 98, 173. For interesting descriptions of 
San Francisco at this period, see especially Annals, 243-321; T. A. Barry 
and A. B. Patten, Men and Memories of San Franoisoo in the * ' Spring of 
'50," 1873; Borthwick, Three Years, 43-93; Bancroft, California, VI, 164- 
220; Holinski, La Calif ornie, 101-132; C. P. Kimball, Directory, Sept., 
1850; J. M. Parker, Directory, 1852. Excellent pictures can be found in 
J. P. Young, San Franoisoo, 1912; C. B. Turrill, ''Life in San Francisco, 
1856," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, LXVIII (1916), 495-502. 

^^Eimhairs Directory, 1850, p. 127. 

22 Six dailies Avere mentioned in Kimball's Directory, 1850, pp. 127-128; 
eight in the Alta, 1851, Jan. 23 %. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 169 

been organized into serviceable cooperation by a city ordinance 
of July 1, 1850. The Empire Engine Company, one of the most 
active, was led by David C. Broderick, who used his experience 
in similar institutions in New York to mold the San Francisco 
company into a useful political tool. The California Engine 
Company, manned by residents of Happy Valley, had a house 
on the corner of Market and Bush streets ; on the ground beside 
it stood a bell which was struck by hand in order to sound an 
alarm of fire. The Monumental Company, most famous of them 
all, was housed on Brenham place, facing the Plaza. From its 
belfry sounded a clear-toned bell which roused the citizens in 
many thrilling hours of conflagration and civic excitement.^^ 
There were three more engine companies, the Protection, the 
Howard, and the Eureka, and tw^o hook and ladder companies. 
All of them were influential in the social and political life of the 
city. The members drew no salaries, but in recognition of their 
services were exempt from jury duty. This privilege withdrew 
several hundred of the best men in San Francisco from that 
unwelcome but important attendance on the courts.^* 

To cope with all the criminal problems of the city, there was 
a force of about seventy-five policemen.-" From statements made 
before the Committee of Vigilance it is evident that some among 
them were confederates of thieves.^^ The city station house was 
a disgraceful cellar, insecure and filthy. Although large funds 
had been expended on the preliminary work of constructing an 
adequate county jail, they had been so misapplied that the 

23 The bells of the California and Monumental companies were used by 
the Committee of Vigilance. (See infra, p. 206.) 

24 See California, Statutes, 1851, chap. 90, p. 401 ; Hittell, General Laws, 
sees. 3102-3124. For an account of the fire companies, see Annals, 614-625; ^ 
Borthwiek, Three Years, 87-90; Frignet, La Calif ornie, 156-159; H. C. 
Pendleton, publisher, The Exempt Firemen of San Francisco, 190(X 

25 Bancroft, California, VI, 214 note 68; Kimball's Directory, 1850, pp. 

26 See Papers, Index under ' ' San Francisco — Police. ' ' 

170 Yigilayice Committee of 1851 

building was far from complete.-^ During this period criminal 
conditions grew steadily worse. The rogues who were driven 
out of the mining camps by the fear of lynch law showed an 
increasing tendency to concentrate in San Francisco. Crowded 
lodging houses and vicious resorts of the city offered shelter, 
without inconvenient curiosity, and any one might live at will 
beneath the scrub oaks and underbrush of the outlying sand 
hills. The ever shifting stream of transient sojourners diverted 
attention from particular individuals, and the few guardians of 
public safety had no way of identifying old offenders, whether 
they came from the other side of the Bay of San Francisco or 
the other side of the Pacific Ocean. 

San Francisco citizens had asserted themselves once, in the 
affair of the Hounds. Since that occasion they had left the 
punishment of criminals in the hands of the authorities,^^ al- 
though various mass meetings had voiced popular resentment at 
civic mismanagement, and had occasionally been heeded for the 
moment by those in authority. The expectation of improvement 
which had influenced men to adjust themselves to the incon- 
veniences of the military-civil regime, now led them to hope 
that the state government would soon accomplish the establish- 
ment of social order. In fact, the toleration of the criminal 
situation of 1850 and 1851 was due in part to a patient accept- 
ance of transitional conditions, and not wholly to a selfish in- 
difference and a blunted civic conscience. 

Nevertheless there was a limit to toleration, and that limit 
was reached on the night of February 19, 1851, when Mr. C. J. 
Jansen, a prominent merchant, was assaulted in his store and 
left for dead, while two men robbed his safe and escaped with 
nearly two thousand dollars.-^ The crime, of itself, was no more 

2r See infra, p. 247. 

^^ Annals, 314. 

29 Full accounts were given in the papers of the day; Annals, 314-320; 
Popular Tribunals, I, 179-200; Eoyce, California, 407-417. The last is 
especially good. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 171 

heinous than many that had passed unnoticed, but the victim 
was so well known and so popular that his misfortune roused 
unusual indignation. Within the next twenty-four hours the 
police arrested an Australian who was supposed to be James 
Stuart, a Sydney convict responsible for many robberies in Cali- 
fornia and for the cold-blooded murder of Charles Moore, near 
Foster's Bar, in Yuba County. ^^'^ Certain clues led to the sus- 
picion that he was also guilty of the attack on Jansen, and he 
was immediately charged with that crime, although he protested 
his innocence most vehemently, and maintained that he was not 
Stuart at all, but a respectable British subject, honestly bearing 
the name of Thomas Berdue. Another Australian, Kobert Win- 
dred, was arrested as an accomplice in the recent raid, and the 
general excitement rose to fever heat when the rumor became 
current that the desperado Stuart was actually in custody, while 
his latest victim hovered between life and death. 

Stuart was, in truth, the murderer of Moore, the thief of 
common report, and the assailant of Jansen. Berdue 's only 
fault was a strange resemblance to the notorious criminal, a 
resemblance which almost caused his death at the hands of a 
San Francisco mob, and imperiled his life and liberty in three 
successive trials for the crimes committed by another man. 

Records of the evidence given at the different trials show that 
Stuart and Berdue were remarkably alike in height, figure, and 
complexion, in the color of their eyes and hair, in the English 
intonation of their voices, and in certain tattoo marks. Both of 
them had a stiff middle finger on the right hand and a scar on 
the right cheek.^^ At one time or another men who had worked 

30 See Herald, 1851, Feb. 21 %; 22 %; and infra, p. 253. 

31 See Popular Tribunals, I, 194-196; Alta, 1851, Feb. 24; History of 
Yuba County, 1879, p. 125. Members of the Vigilance Committee had an 
opportunity to compare the two men, and Schenek said : ' ' Berdue . . . was a 
man about five feet and 71/2 inches in height, with full oval face, dark 
brown or auburn hair, a w^ell built and good proportioned man, with rather 
a fair complexion, and I think grey or blue eyes. Stuart was a man full 

172 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

with Stuart, officers who had guarded him while under arrest, 
and judges who had tried him identified Berdue as the escaped 
murderer; other witnesses took the opposite position and were 
equally certain that Berdue was not responsible for the crimes 
of James Stuart, whatever share he might have taken in the 
attack on Jansen. It was not strange that the wounded man, 
himself, thought he recognized Berdue when the latter was taken 
to his bedside. When that fact was announced on the street 
an angry crowd tried to wrest the supposed Stuart from the 
police as the prisoners were being returned to the station house. 
When they were brought into court both men tried to establish 
an alibi. This device was the common resort of criminals, and 
their witnesses made a very unfavorable impression. The public 
irritation increased during the hearing and when the court ad- 
journed on Saturday afternoon there was another attempt to 
seize the suspects and to hang them at once. With the help of 
the Washington Guards, who had been called out by the authori- 
ties, the crowd was again beaten off, and the prisoners lodged 
in a place of safety; but by evening several thousand people 
surrounded the city hall, some bent on violence, some anxious to 
prevent ill-advised action of any kind. 

Popular restlessness was further increased by the radical 
expressions of the leading newspapers, and by the circulation 
of a handbill couched in the most inflammatory terms.^^ After 

five feet 9 or Q^/^ inches high, with sharp features, narrow chin, darker com- 
plexion than Berdue, and very dark brown or black hair, much darker than 
Berdue 's, with longer arms, a slighter built man. There was really no 
strong resemblance between the two men, and there was no such distinguish- 
ing feature as the loss of a finger on the hand of each, as was mentioned 
in the public prints about six years ago" (MS Statement, 30-31). G. W. 
Eyckman confirmed this view {Statement, 8, MS in the Bancroft Library), 
but A. M. Comstock found them remarkably alike (MS Vigilance Commit- 
tees — Miscellany, 39). It was rumored that Berdue was an ex-convict 
{Papers, 506). 

32 The handbill is printed infra, p. 453. On Feb. 21, the editor of the 
Alta severely criticized the failure of justice in the courts, and wrote: 
''We deprecate Lynch Law, but the outraged public will appeal to that 
soon unless some far more efficient measures be adopted in other quarters." 
Similar sentiments were repeated on Feb. 23. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 173 

listening to a number of speeches the assembly voted to appoint 
a committee to guard the prisoners during the night, and to 
consult with the authorities concerning the course to be pursued. 
Some of the actors in the Hounds ' trial reappeared : W. D. M. 
Howard was chairman, Samuel Brannan took a leading part, 
and A. J. Ellis, H. F. Teschemacher, and T. H. Green were 
again chosen to represent the people.^^ t^^iq committee held a 
long and stormy meeting, and their debates can still be read in 
the papers of February 23 and 24. A minority of four, led 
by Brannan, wished to recommend immediate execution, but the 
majority desired more deliberate action. In the end it was found 
impossible to make any unanimous report.^* 

On Sunday a still larger crowd collected in the Plaza, where 
both parties of the committee presented their views,^^ while the 
mayor and other officials appeared on the balcony of the city 
hall and urged the citizens to disperse, promising that the pris- 
oners should be tried without delay and promptly punished if 
their guilt were established. 

The report in the Alia California stated that the five or six 
thousand persons present were as orderly and quiet as so large 
a body could be, but it is evident from the recollections of 

33 The committeemen were : W. D. M. Howard, Samuel Brannan, A J 
Elhs, H. F. Teschemacher, W. H. Jones, Ralph Dorr, E. A. King, J B 
Huie, T. H. Green, Benjamin Ray, A. H. Sibley, J. L. Folsom 'f " W* 
Macondray, Theodore Payne {Alia, 1851, Feb. 23 %)• The first eight 
became members of the Committee of Vigilance. 

34'^ We are the mayor, and the recorder, the hang man and the laws'" 
cried Brannan, ' ' The laAv and the courts never yet hung a man in Califor- 
nia! " {Alta, 1851, Feb. 23 %). 

35 The following report of the minority was distributed as a handbill 

and printed in the papers of Feb. 24: ' 

To THE People of San Francisco 

The undersigned, the minority of the committee appointed by 

you, report as follows: That the prisoners, Stuart and Wildred [Win- 

dred] are both deserving of immediate punishment, as there is no 

question of their guiltiness of crime. The safety of life and property 

as well as the name and credit of the city, demand prompt action on 

the part of the people. 

[Signed] Samuel Brannan, Wm. H. Jones, E. A Kin? 
J. B. Huie. ^' 

174 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

spectators that the spirit of the crowd was one of intense excite- 
ment. There was a universal distrust of promises of reform, 
and a universal determination that this crime, at least, should 
be avenged ; many were armed, and the issue of the day waited 
upon the appearance of some one able to dominate and unite 
the opposing elements. Such a leader was recognized when 
William T. Coleman, a man still under thirty years of age, 
pushed his way through the crowded balcony of the city hall, 
leaned far out over the railing, caught the attention of the 
impatient thousands with a dramatic arraignment of the intoler- 
able miscarriage of justice in the city courts, and then proposed 
the formation of a peoples' court, which should give the pris- 
oners a fair trial without an instant 's delay, and either discharge 
or hang them before sunset.^*' A shout of approval greeted his 
suggestion and a unanimous vote carried the motion that organ- 
ization should immediately be effected. This was done. Judge, 
jury, and counsel were selected and they spent the afternoon 
and evening listening to evidence. The trial was held in the 
recorder's room in the city hall, but from motives of prudence 
the prisoners were not allowed to attend. 

G. E. Schenck, who later became a member of the Committee 
of Vigilance, was one of the jury, and spoke of the trial as 
follows :^^ 

The result of the trial was, from the testimony, that these men were 
decided to be guilty^ and the verdict was about to be brought in accord- 
ingly, when I suggested that they should have a fair trial by the author- 
ities, as we had not seen the prisoners, they not being before us, and as 

36 For a biographical note on Mr. Coleman see infra, p. 190. The papers 
stated that he was the head of the committee, but they ignored the exact 
moment when he suggested organization. The details given in the text are 
from his MS Statement in the Bancroft Library. His recollections tallied 
so well with the printed reports that an extract is given, infra, p. 453. See 
also his "San Francisco Vigilance Committees," Century, XLIII (1891), 

37 MS Stateme7it 25-26. Hall McAllister was also in substantial agree- 
ment with Coleman, Schenck, and the narrative presented by Koyce. See MS 
Vigilance Committees — Miscellany, 16-17. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 175 

Mr. Jansen had not fully identified them, there was room for doubt. Two 
others coincided with me in regard to it, and we agreed to bring a verdict 
that we could not agree; there were nine for conviction, and three had 
doubts. This was about nine o'clock at night. On our coming into the 
Court Eoom and announcing this fact, the outside crowd broke in the 
windows, and rushed in at the doors, and broke up the railing round the 
bar, and were about to make an attack on the jurors. The jury drew 
their revolvers, and rushed back into the jury room until the excitement 
subsided. The jury was then discharged. It was one o'clock before we 
got away. In the meantime, Mr. Wm. T. Coleman was haranguing the 
crowd, endeavoring to persuade them to disperse, while Brannan was 
urging them on, and was for hanging the prisoners anyway. 

The disapproval of the waiting crowd was even more yiolent 
than Sehenck depicted. During the evening several attempts 
had been made to seize the prisoners, but the police, assisted 
by some two hundred and fifty volunteers, had repulsed the 
attacks. When the disagreement was announced a rush was 
made for the jurymen, and there were loud cries of "Hang 
them, too!" An indignation meeting was held in the street and 
the excitement did not subside until after midnight, when it 
was voted to adjourn indefinitely, and the watchers quietly 

Windred and Berdue were tried about the middle of March 
and both were convicted.^^ Windred was given a ten-year sen- 
tence, but he quickly escaped.^^ Berdue, under a sentence of 
fourteen years, was sent to Marysville to stand trial for the 
murder of Moore. His case came up in June, and for the third 
time the prisoner made a fruitless effort to establish his inno- 
cence in spite of the fatal resemblance to his ill-reputed country- 
man. Judge B. F. Washington, who had tried Stuart in Sacra- 
mento, positively identified the accused as the fugitive, and some 
fifty other witnesses agreed with him. Judge 0. P. Stidger, 
who had tried Stuart for robbery at Marysville, was equally 
definite on the other side. Several witnesses supported Judge 

38 See the court reports in the Alia and the Herald, 1851, March 15-21. 

39 See mfra, p. 311. 

176 Vigilance Coynmittee of 1851 

Stidger, but in spite of their evidence Berdue was pronounced 
guilty on July 4. By this time his funds were entirely exhausted, 
and his hopeless state of mind is clearly shown by a pathetic 
letter which he wrote to a friend, and which was later copied for 
the files of the Committee of Vigilance.^^ There was, indeed, 
little chance of a reprieve, but a later chapter will show how Fate, 
which had played him such sorry tricks in the past, came to his 
rescue with incredible and dramatic caprice.^^ 

In an effort to improve civic affairs the residents of San Fran- 
cisco procured from the second session of the legislature a new 
charter that corrected some of the defects in the first.*^ This 
necessitated a new election for local officers, which took place 
in April. Nearly six thousand votes were cast, and the major- 
ities given to the Whig candidates made a sweeping change in 
the city administration.^^ The editor of the Alta California 
interpreted this as a sign that the people were so tired of the 
corruption of the previous officials that they sought new men in 
the hope of securing reform. ''They will be watched," he as- 
serted, "and they will be held to a strict accountability for the 
manner in which they shall exercise the powers vested in them. 
. . . They will be watched by a vigilant party. They must be 
watched by a vigilant people."** These were the men who 
served through the months of the activity of the Committee of 
Vigilance. The names of some of them are frequently men- 
tioned in the archives of the society. Charles J. Brenham was 

40 See letter to John Gofe, Papers, 222-223. 

41 See infra, pp. 257, 303. 

42 California, Statutes, 1851, chap. 84, p. 357. The first months of 
municipal experiments in California had resulted in great waste of public 
funds in other places besides San Francisco, and during the second legis- 
lature several cities secured new charters. 

43 The Whig vote was about 3162, the Democrat, 2748, Alta, 1851, April 

44 Alta, 1851, April 30 %. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 177 

chosen mayor, R. H. Waller, recorder, Frank M. Pixley, city 
attorney, and Robert G. Crozier, marshal.*^ 

The former county judge, R. M. Morrison, having resigned 
in April, the governor appointed Alexander Campbell to the 
vacant position.*^ He was assisted in the Court of Sessions by 
Associate Justices Edward McGowan and H. S. Brown, who 
held over from the county election of 1850. Campbell's judicial 
integrity was never questioned. Judge Brown seems to have 
made no particular impression, either for good or evil,*^ but 
'^Ned" McGowan, friend of criminals and ward heelers, Avas an 
example of the worst sort of California magistrate. The Vigi- 
lance Committee of 1851 refrained from prosecuting him; the 
Committee of 1856 made strenuous though unsuccessful efforts 
to take him into custody.^^ 

Another incumbent who remained in office was Judge Levi 
Parsons, who had been elected to the District Court by the first 
legislature. Parsons had no sympathy with efforts at reform, 
and he became so irritated with the constant agitation carried 
on by the press that he charged the grand jury to take measures 
against editors whose libelous publications might incite to acts 
of violence. At the same time he warned the jury not to return 
indictments against criminals except on evidence strong enough 
to insure conviction before a trial jury, an admonition which 
evoked the strongest censure from the San Francisco papers. 
The Herald was particularly emphatic, and remarked : ' ' Thus 
the district court instructs the grand jury to aid the escape of 
criminals." This expression led Judge Parsons to cause the 
arrest of William Walker, the editor in charge, to try him for 
contempt, to fine him $500, and to imprison him when payment 

45 See Annals, 326. 

^G Herald, 1851, May 17 %. 

47 See note on his resignation, infra, p. 303. 

48 See Papers, 332, 336, 349, also infra, p. 402. 

178 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

was refused.*^ An indignation meeting was promptly held on 
the Plaza. Samuel Brannan presided and W. T. Coleman was 
one of the vice-presidents. Resolutions were passed condemning 
Judge Parsons' action, and a committee was appointed to pro- 
cure his impeachment before the state legislature. Walker's case 
was immediately carried to the Superior Court on a writ of 
habeas corpus, and the prisoner was discharged. The effort to 
impeach Parsons was given up on the ground of insufficient 
evidence. ^^ 

While discussing the personnel of the San Francisco bench 
in 1851, it is relevant to notice a serious handicap laid upon 
the lower court. The statutes of 1850 charged the county at- 
torney with the duty of conducting criminal prosecutions before 
justices' courts, as well as in the County Court.^^ That office 
was abolished in 1851, and the duties of the county attorney 
were transferred to the district attorney, who was charged with 
conducting prosecutions before lower magistrates when he was 
"not in attendance upon the District Court or Court of Ses- 
sions. "°- This change imposed so many duties upon the district 
attorney of San Francisco that he entirely neglected any at- 
tendance on the recorder's court, which now exercised the larger 
powers given to lower magistrates by the revised statutes of 
1851. The city recorder, obliged to act both as prosecuting at- 
torney and as judge, petitioned in vain for a special prosecuting 
officer, since the common council had no power to create such 
an office.^^ This condition placed criminals who employed able 
lawyers in a position of great advantage. Although repeated 
complaint was made against it,^^ an appointment noted in the 

49 See Annals, 322-324; Herald, 1851, March 4; 10; 15. 

50 First California Eeports (annotated eel.), 539-555. 

51 California, Statutes, 1850, chap. 39, p. 112, sec. 5. 

52 California, Statutes, 1851, chap. 21, p. 188, sec. 6. 

53 Alta, 1851, Nov. 27 %. 

54 See Herald, 1852, March 22 %. The district attorney sometimes 
appeared, but Avas usually too busy. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 179 

Alta California of April 5, 1856, seems to be the first special 
assignment of a prosecuting attorney to the lowest court. ^^ 

On May 4, 1851, San Francisco was devastated by a fifth 
great fire, which consumed more than three-quarters of the city 
and entailed a loss of several lives and of ten or twelve million 
dollars.^® This was by far the worst calamity that had yet over- 
taken the community. It occurred on the anniversary of the 
fire of May 4, 1850, and in the excited public imagination it 
was generally believed that both were the work of incendiaries — 
a belief strengthened by the discovery of about $10,000 worth of 
booty in houses occupied by the Sydney immigrants.^" 

During the next four weeks San Francisco again justified 
the symbol of the phoenix upon the city seal. Before the ruins 
had cooled rebuilding was under way. Within ten days nearly 
three hundred and fifty new structures were completed and 
occupied. ^^ Men worked with indomitable energy to restore 
what had been destroyed, and with growing determination to 
protect the fruit of their toil from the outlaws whose plots had 
so often resulted in arson and death. The belief in the existence 
of a gang determined to burn the city for the purpose of plunder 
created an atmosphere of extreme nervous tension that especially 
affected the citizens of large financial interests. The pioneer 
merchants of San Francisco were cool of head and quick of 
hand, not afraid to carry their lives in their own keeping, 
although disinclined to seek trouble in the resorts of crime and 
violence. But single-handed courage was powerless to save either 

55 A prosecuting attorney for the mayor 's court had then been appointed. 

56 See Annals, 329-333, 604-610; Bancroft, California, VI, 204-206; 
Popular Tribunals, I, 74. Interesting recollections of the catastrophe ^vere 
given by Schenk, MS Statement, 44-45 ; and by Alfred Wheeler, ' ' Oration, ' ' 
in Society of California Pioneers, Thirty-seoond Anniversary (1882), 19-23. 

57 The fire was attributed to accident rather than to arson in Parker's 
Directory, 1852, p. 19. 

^^ Herald, 1851, May 15 %. The slogan of the city was said to be: ''Go 
ahead. Young California! Who, the hell, cares for a fire!" (Gerstacker, 
Gold ein Calif orniscJies Lehensbild, p. 111). 

180 Vigil^anee Committee of 1851 

life or fortune from the destruction of these recurrent fires, and 
the public officials were either unable or unwilling to ferret out 
the incendiaries. 

On May 17 a movement was started to supplement the inade- 
quate police force by organizing a volunteer night patrol.^^ . Resi- 
dents of the Fifth and Seventh wards met at the California 
Engine House and formed an association which was duplicated, 
later, in the Third ward. The effort received not only the ap- 
proval of the press but the sanction of the authorities. The 
patrol was authorized by a city ordinance, the mayor swore the 
volunteer police into office, and the city marshal assumed the 
direction of their work.^° Speaking of this organization Schenck 
said :^^ 

Capt. F. W. Macondray was at the head of it, and there were about 
a hundred members. The members were assigned to different districts, 
and were on duty about eight hours. I was out four times per month in 
this way. This was a regular police organization, with proper officers, 
established by ourselves for our protection, and the members were ex- 
pected to and did personally perform the duties required and not delegate 
them to any one else. This may be said to be the origin of the Vigilance 
Committee of 1851. The attack on Jansen and other outrages which had 
become so numerous as to excite the indignation of the people, together 
with the laxity of the laws and the difficulty of keeping witnesses here 
to give their evidence in cases brought to trial, led to the organization 
of this patrol, and ultimately to the formation of the Committee of 
Vigilance, which took place about the tenth of June, 1851. About a 
dozen members of the patrol casually met in the neighborhood of Macon- 
dray 's building, about the middle of the day, and after some discussion, 
resolved themselves into a Committee of Vigilance, and procured Bran- 
nan 's building to hold meetings in. 

The last clause in Schenck 's statement is not exactly substan- 
tiated by other accounts, but it indicates one of the influences 
which led to the formation of the Committee of Vigilance. Lists 

^^AUa, 1851, May 19 %; 20 %; 21 %; 28 %. 

60 See ordinance of May 26, 1851 {ManamX of San Francisco, 1852, p. 49). 
Bancroft placed the organization of the patrol in February (Popular 
Tribunals, I, 205). 

61 Schenck, MS Statement, 34-35. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 181 

of the officers of the patrol were printed in the Herald. Of the 
thirty-four named, fourteen became members of the Committee, 
although they were not conspicuous in starting the movement.^- 
Occasional paragraphs in the papers suggested a decrease of 
violence after the demonstration of popular temper over the 
Jansen affair, and particularly after the formation of the vol- 
unteer patrol. Nevertheless, a long list of crimes can be com- 
piled from the news items, and ^the more terrifying menace of 
arson oppressed the popular imagination with increasing appre- 

The cry of ' ' Fire ! ' ' startled the town again on the night of 
the second of June. It proved to be but a small blaze, easily 
extinguished before it spread beyond a single room in a lodging 
house on Long Wharf. A smouldering heap of oil-soaked bed- 
ding seemed to incriminate the occupant, Benjamin Lewis, and 
he was arrested not far from the building and arraigned before 
the recorder. While the hearing was in progress hundreds of 
spectators thronged the court room and the street outside and 

e2 Eerald, 1851, June 10 •%. In view of Schenck's statement it is inter- 
esting to record the names of future Vigilantes who served as ofiieers of 
patrols, and to note their membership number in the Committee. 

Third ward Fifth and Seventh wards < 

James Murray, No. 345, G. M. Garwood, No. 46, 

J. C. Hasson, No. 229, W. C. Graham, No. 152, 

J. F. Curtis, No. 31, C. L. Case, No. 161, 

J. E. Dall, No. 80, Capt. E. Gorham, No. 3, 

P. Markey, No. 393, R. S. Lammot, No. 49, 

Thomas McCahill, No. 90, Frank Mahony, No. 6, 

W. F. Martin, No. 417, William Browne, No. 23. 

P. W. Van Winkle, No. 554. 

63 An editorial in the Herald of June 4 reported a decided improvement, 
but the Courier of the next day lamented that there was no apparent 
decrease in crime. The Herald, July 4 %, gave a summary, showing that 
from April 30, 1850, to May 23, 1851, some 184 prisoners had been com- 
mitted for trial before the District Court. Of these 68 had been dis- 
charged, 21 had escaped, 6 had died, 2 received pardons, and 9 were still 
in custody. Of the remaining 78, 40 had probably forfeited bail, and the 
rest were unaccounted for, although over 20 had been convicted and sen- 
tenced. For crimes of this period, see Popular TribunaU, I, 139, 162, 

182 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

heard with growing excitement evidence that warranted holding 
the prisoner for trial before a higher court. 

The rush of an engine responding to an alarm of fire nearly 
precipitated a riot late in the afternoon of the trial. When 
some one raised the cry that the prisoner's friends were creating 
a diversion in order to effect a rescue, the crowd began to clamor 
for immediate execution. Colonel Stevenson, owner of the house 
Lewis had fired, made a speech in which he urged all law-loving 
citizens to take into their own hands the administration of justice, 
since the authorities afforded no protection either for life or for 
property. Mayor Brenham and others succeeded in restoring 
order only when the people were convinced that Lewis had been 
removed from the building and placed in security beyond their 
reach. The papers of June 4 recounted the affair in detail. 
Their spirit is indicated by the following extract from an edi- 
torial in the Herald: 

Although strongly opposed, as must be every lover of fair play, to 
the summary execution of even such a character as Lewis, without a 
patient and impartial trial — we yet must declare that we regard the 
demonstration of yesterday with the highest gratification; and we trust 
that, if the man be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to have committed 
the prime, the citizens will supply any deficiency that may exist in the 
law. We say this, fully alive to the expectation that we shall therefore 
be accused of advocating Lynch-law. If this man be guilty of setting 
fire to the house on Long Wharf, and if the law do not adjudge him the 
penalty of death therefor, we do most unquestionably advocate Lynch- 

Lewis was indicted by the grand jury on June 5, but Judge 
Parsons had the indictment quashed on the ground that the 
new judiciary act, effective May 1, eliminated May terms for 
the grand jury and for the District Court. The grand jury 
which had acted in the case of Lewis had been called on May 26 
by a substitute. Judge Robinson, during Parsons' temporary 
absence from the bench. Parsons discharged it as being without 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 183 

standing in the eyes of the law.^* The prisoner was kept in 
custody to await the July term, when he was indicted, tried, 
convicted, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, the heaviest 
penalty allowed for arson by the statutes in force at the time he 
committed the crime. ^^ 

Schenck said of the Lewis affair -.^'^ 

This was one of the transactions which led immediately to the organ- 
ization of the Vigilance Committee out of the volunteer patrol, their 
motive being to secure the conviction of Lewis. The first watchword of 
the Committee was ''Lewis." It was afterwards changed, partly owing 
to the fact that Eube Maloney got into the Committee, and he was not 
wanted there. 

Schenck 's statement is particularly valuable because it ex- 
plains the presence among the papers of the Vigilance Committee 
of a document entitled "The People vs. Benjamin Lewis; Copy 
of Testimony before the Recorder. "^^ This is somewhat fuller 
than the reports which appeared in the newspapers, and it is 
evident that some one who was afterward connected with the 
Committee was at pains to secure a complete transcript of the 
record, perhaps in anticipation of the trial before the higher 
court. The case of Lewis thus occupies the opening pages of 
the Papers of the Committee, and it happens that a singularly 
vivid series of San Francisco pictures are given in the crisp, 
disjointed sentences which were caught by the recorder's clerk 
while the mob in the noisy street shouted for summary execution. 

The same conditions that existed in San Francisco prevailed 
in lesser or greater degree in all the interior towns, and were 
arousing public efforts to combat organized crime. The residents 

&^ Herald, 1851, June 10 %; 12 %. 

^^ Herald, 1851, July 4 % ; 23 %; 30 %. 

66 Schenck, MS Statement, 51. He said that Lewis escaped, and was 
later connected Avith the murder of a Dr. Burdell in New York, and was 
also convicted of a murder in New Jersey. The incident of the watchword 
is considered, infra, p. 209. 

67 Papers, 4-14. 

184 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of Coloma gathered in mass meeting in the spring to devise some 
method to ''ferret out and bring to punishment the villains who 
lurk about Sacramento city and who it seems have lately as- 
saulted some citizens of Coloma. "*^^ A little later the men of 
Sacramento made a vigorous protest against the crime that was 
rampant in their city.®^ Just at the time of the excitement in 
San Francisco over the case of Lewis the people about Stockton 
were roused by the depredations of a band of horse thieves. Five 
of these were finally captured. One of them turned state's evi- 
dence, and disclosed concerted operations of very wide extent. 
His confession attracted' much attention, and the papers began 
to advocate the formation of popular committees for the defense 
of society. In the San Francisco Herald of June 5 the editor 
recommended that a vessel should be chartered to deport all the 
criminals known to the police.'^^ The Stockton Journal went to 
greater extremes and demanded that the people should appoint 
a commission and proclaim martial law."^^ 

The idea of a protective association was taking definite shape 
in many minds. On June 8 the Alt a published a letter which 
outlined a general plan of organization. The writer proposed 
that a ''committee of safety" should be established to prevent 
the landing of convicts from Sydney, and that each ward in 
San Francisco should have a "committee of vigilance" to hunt 
down criminals and warn them to keep out of the city.^- This 
communication was signed by "Justice," and Professor Royce 
identified the author as R. S. Watson, one of the first members 
of the Committee of Vigilance.'^^ The California Co^crier of 

68 Alfa, 1851, April 1 %. 

69 Alta, 1851, April 16 %. 

70 See infra, p. 454. 

71 See infra, p. 455. 

72 See infra, p. 456. 

73 Eoyee, California, 418. 

The Prelude to the Committee of Vigilance 185 

June 10 printed another long article urging similar action on 
the ground that society was in a condition of revolution.'* 

The excitement attending the trial of Lewis, the disclosures 
at Stockton which confirmed the impressions of a widespread 
organization of the criminal element, and the publication of 
such editorials as those just quoted combined during several 
successive days to emphasize the imperative need of some new 
movement that should attempt the suppression of crime. 

The effort to meet that need resulted in the formation of the 
Committee of Vigilance. 

74 See infra, p. 456. 



It has been the purpose of the preceding study of California 
to show the local problems and the local attitude of mind so 
clearly that the reader can understand, without further elabor- 
ation, why the citizens of San Francisco instinctively adopted 
some form of popular association when they believed that their 
lives and their property were at the mercy of a criminal organ- 
ization. Whatever may be his interest in their work, his criticism 
of the motives that influenced them, or his judgment of the 
results they accomplished, his personal estimate of the Committee 
of Vigilance of 1851 must be grounded upon a realization of 
the historic fact that the men of California had obtained national 
citizenship through resolute self-determination, through auda- 
cious self-organization, and through vehement self-assertion 
within the halls of Congress. Determination, audacity, and self- 
assertion also obtained for them a representative state govern- 
ment and statute law, although they did not insure them against 
the consequences of haste and inexperience, nor protect them 
from political demoralization. The precedents set in the days 
of self-protection and self-organization long persisted as vital 
influences in the local consciousness and irresistibly directed the 
men of 1851 towards a protective emergency association. 

The call for such an organization was widespread and in- 
sistent. The formation of a committee of safety or of a citizens' 
commission had been advocated in Stockton by the Journal and 
in San Francisco by the Herald and the Alta; it did not origi- 
nate, as is sometimes presumed, in the imagination of hot-headed 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 187 

extremists who cowed the law-abiding community into temporary 
subjection. Extremists there were among the Vigilantes, but 
as we study the records of their work we shall see that passion 
and violence were restrained to a surprising extent. 

The full list of members is printed in Part I of the Papers 
of the Committee, and is reprinted, with tables of officers, in 
the Appendix to Part HI. The Index to the latter volume gives 
a guide to the activities of each one, but as no biographical data 
are included with the documents it seems necessary that this nar- 
rative should show the reader what sort of men the Vigilantes 
were, and what influence they exerted on the community, both 
before and after their connection with the Committee of Vigil- 
ance. It would be interesting to trace the previous life and the 
California experiences of all the 707 members, but such an 
enormous task has not even been attempted. 

About one in ten of the entire membership have left bio- 
graphical records that are easily accessible. Even that list is 
too long to be incorporated in this chapter, and only about a 
dozen whose names will constantly appear in the narrative of 
the Committee will be introduced to the reader at this point. 
Notices of many others will be found in the Biographical Ap- 
pendix. None of these brief notes is an original contribution 
to the history of California, for they have been collected from 
newspapers and books already in print, without further verifica- 
tion by the present writer. 

The roll of the Society of California Pioneers shows that 
more than a fourth of the committeemen reached the state prior 
to 1850. Indeed that society was organized, in 1850, largely 
by men who joined the Committee of Vigilance in 1851. A 
dozen future Vigilantes were among its earliest officers, and 
seven served as presidents in the course of subsequent years. ^ 

1 See Annals, 283-284. The first officers included W. D. M. Howard, 
president, J. R. Snyder and Samuel Braunan, vice-presidents, J. C. L. 
Wadsworth and A. J. Grayson, assistant secretaries, and J. C. Ward, Wil- 

188 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

It is not unlikely that many other members of the Committee 
arrived during the early months of the gold excitement, and were 
thoroughly imbued with the traditions and precedents of mining 
life. A number had already stamped their personality upon the 
community. Their names have already been mentioned in dis- 
cussing the history of the state in 1847, the San Francisco town 
councils of 1848, 1849, and 1850, the movement for state organ- 
ization, the suppression of the Hounds, and the trial of Jansen's 
assailants. They constantly reappeared in connection with com- 
mercial and political affairs of more or less importance.^ 

The members of the Committee are often characterized as 
the "leading merchants of San Francisco." In 1851 about a 
score of them were reckoned among the wealthy men of the city, 
and others made comfortable or conspicuous fortunes in later 
years.^ The majority, however, were clerks or small tradesmen, 
and are unknown to posterity except as sons and grandsons carry 

liam Blackburn, J. D. Stevenson, Robert Wells, J. M. Huxley, Henry Gerke, 
R. A. Parker, directors. The list of later presidents included Brannan, 
Snyder, P. A. Roach, Dr. H. M. Gray, O. P. Sutton, and A. M. Ebbets (San 
Francisco Call, 1890, Sept. 8, p. 3). 

2 In July, 1848, W. D. M. Howard, C. V. Gillespie and J. C. Ward were 
appointed by a San Francisco mass meeting to petition Governor Mason to 
adjust important questions connected with the currency (Bancroft, Califor- 
nia, VI, 268 Twte). 

Future Vigilantes formed more than one-third of the signers of an 
early call for a Chamber of Commerce (Alta, 1849, Nov. 1 i^). The same 
merchants signed formal congratulations to the new collector of the port a 
few days later (Cong. Docs., Ser. No. 573, Doc. 17, pp. 28-29). J. L. 
Van Bokkelen, A. J. Ellis and G. M. Garwood were members of the Whig 
Convention, May 26, 1851 (Alta, May 27 %). 

3 Contemporary ratings of the following members were given in A Pile, 
1851, which listed some 600 wealthy Calif ornians : 

Felix Argenti $500,000 James King of Wm $125,000 

Samuel Brannan 275,000 Charles Minturn 100,000 

C. H. Brinley 15,000 John Middleton 50,000 

T. K. Batteile 10,000 A. B. Stout 20,000 

A. J. Ellis 50,000 J. D. Stevenson 350,000 

C. V. Gillespie 225,000 H. F. Teschemacher 50,000 

Samuel Haight 75,000 J. T. [J?] Vioget 50,000 

J. B. Huie 10,000 Ferdinand Vassault 60,000 

W. D. M. Howard 375,000 J. C. L. Wadsworth 20,000 

E. A. King 10,000 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 189 

on their names, or as the rolls of pioneer societies and brief 
obituary notices record their life and death. 

It is probable that today no more than three men are gen- 
erally remembered as leaders in the Committee of 1851 : Samuel 
Brannan, the first president, Isaac Bluxome, Jr., the secretary, 
and William T. Coleman. Of these Bluxome is more widely 
known as "33, Secretary," his official designation in the Com- 
mittee of 1856, and Coleman, as president of that larger body. 
Brannan, therefore, has been accepted as the standard-bearer 
of the Committee of 1851, and since he was also a most notorious 
hot-head it is not surprising that his personal qualities have 
been embodied as the ruling spirit of the association. 

Sam Brannan had been making history ever since July 31, 
1846, when he landed in Yerba Buena at the head of his colony 
of Mormons,* He is said to have preached the first English 
sermon heard in the streets of the town, to have performed the 
first non- Catholic marriage ceremony, and to have been defend- 
ant at the first jury trial. He established the first San Francisco 
newspaper, the California Star, advocated the first public school,^ 
built the first flour mill, and made the first public announcement 
of the discovery of gold. He conducted a store at Sutter's Fort 
in 1847 and 1848, and engaged in land speculation at Sacra- 
mento, so that his name appears on many occasions in the annals 
of that neighborhood. He offered the first resolution against 
slavery at the Sacramento meeting which selected delegates to 

4 Brannan was born in Saco, Maine, in 1819, was a printer by trade, and 
became a Mormon in 1842. His career is discussed in Bancroft, California, 

II, 728; Popular Tribunals, especially II, 115-117; Annals, 748-753; O. T. 
Shuck, Bepresentative and Leading Men of the Pacific, 1870, pp. 455-459, 
portrait; Davis, Sixty Years, 507; Burnett, Eecollections, 298, 410; BroA\Ti, 
Eeminiscences, [29]; SAvasey, Earlj/ Days, 202-208; Eldredge, California, 

III, 118, portrait; Eldredge, San 'Francisco, II, 709-711; Ryckman, MS 
Statement, 4; San Francisco Call, 1890, Sept. 8 %. He received* one vote for 
the Democratic nomination for governor in 1851, and as a presidential 
elector he cast his ballot for Lincoln and Johnson in 1864 (Davis, Political 
Conventions, 11, 210, 212). 

5 California Star, 1848, Feb. 5 %. 

190 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the constitutional convention proposed for March, 1849. He 
was a conspicuous leader in the trial of the San Francisco 
Hounds, and was elected to the ayuntamiento in the following 
August. He was also an advocate of the summary execution of 
Berdue and Windred when they were falsely accused of the 
attack on Jansen. The Committee of Vigilance was organized 
in his office, he was its second member and its first president, 
and appeared as its first spokesman before the San Francisco 
public. Much of the immediate success of the Committee was 
due to his fearless initiative and to his command over the temper 
of the general public, but his tendencies leaned too often to- 
wards summary punishment and his impetuous nature soon 
created intense friction that ultimately caused his resignation. 
Subsequent years found him still a leader in countless directions, 
always loyal in his support of the Union during the Civil War, 
and in local affairs active in promoting agriculture, in estab- 
lishing banks, in organizing railway, telegraph, express, and in- 
surance companies, in cooperating with literary and artistic 
movements, and in contributing to philanthropic efforts and the 
private relief of needy individuals. ]\Iisfortune overtook him in 
later life; his brilliant personality was clouded by dissipation, 
his wealth melted away, his position was lost, and he died in 
poverty and obscurity, in Escondido, San Diego County, May 5, 

Enough has already been said of William T. Coleman to 
show that he had initiative and courage — ^the courage that could 
control excited men and check mob violence.^ He was born in 
Cynthiana, Kentucky, in 1824, lived for a time in St. Louis, 
and arrived in California in August, 1849. He was greatly 
surprised by the honesty and serenity of the countr^^, and 

6 See Bancroft, Chronicles of the Builders, I, 300-391, portrait ; Popular 
Tribunals, especially II, 117-121; Swasey, Early Days, 345-354; Phelps, 
Contemporary Biography, I, 272-280; A. S. Hallidie, ''William T. Cole- 
man," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, XXIII (1894), 71-75. 



From a daguerreotype in the possession of his son, 
Mr. Kobert Lewis Coleman. 



The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 191 

attributed that condition to the stern lessons of lynch law/ He 
devoted himself to commercial interests in Placerville, Sacra- 
mento, and San Francisco, but said that he was practically un- 
known in the latter town until he suggested the extra-legal trial 
that saved Berdue and Windred from the violence of the mob. 

Coleman was number 96 on the roll of those who signed the 
constitution of the Committee of Vigilance, and he acted on the 
subcommittee that superintended the first execution. On that 
occasion his reputation for justice and caution must have done 
much to win the approval of the spectators. His hearty co- 
operation during the earlier weeks inevitably tended to instill 
order and method into the work of the Committee. The minutes 
and reports, however, make little reference to his part in the 
deliberations, and as early as August 9 he resigned from his 
position on the Executive Committee, excusing himself on the 
grounds of the demands of business. His interest in the society 
remained unabated, he was a member of the Committee of Thir- 
teen that continued the organization after the cessation of open 
activities, and he led in the reorganization in 1856. In spite 
of his Southern birth and of his adherence to the Democratic 
party, he was always staunchly loyal to the Union. In contrast 
to Brannan, Coleman stands for the pioneer of sound judgment 
and firm balance, successful not only in winning friends and 
fortune but in long maintaining his position of leadership in the 
financial and social development of his adopted state. His photo- 
graph taken in 1856 reveals a personality that inspires confidence 
and admiration.^ 

Isaac Bluxome, Jr.,^ was of Revolutionary stock, was born 
in New York in 1829, and educated in a private school in 

7 Coleman, MS Statement, 2. 

8 See Eldredge, Calif ornia, Til, 434. 

9 See Popular Tribunals, especially I, 250-252; Phelps, Contemporary 
Biography, I, 269-271; description of the Bluxome Eanch, ^?trt, 1874, 
Aug. 24 %; obituary, San Francisco Call, 1890, Nov. 11 %. Bluxome was 
an influential Odd Fellow and a member of the Episcopal Church. 

192 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Flushing, Long Island. He arrived in San Francisco in June, 
1849, immediately engaged in the commission business, and was 
burned out in three successive fires. He was prominent in the 
arrest and trial of the Hounds, and in the military companies 
subsequently organized. ''Bluxome's Battery" became one of 
the most dashing units of the California Guards. He joined the 
Committee as member number 71 [67],^^ and acted as secretary 
throughout its activities and also during the reorganization in 
1856. Bancroft, who knew him intimately, described him as a 
man of strong convictions and fearless spirit, although he was 
warm-hearted and genial in the ordinary relations of life. He 
led an honorable and successful business life in San Francisco, 
and owned for some years a large and beautiful ranch, known 
as Bluxomeville, near Cloverdale, Sonoma County. He died 
November 9, 1890. 

Of these three men, only Bluxome kept up a long and active 
membership in the Committee of 1851, but the narrative of the 
Vigilantes will make us intimately acquainted with many others. 
As has been said, a few of the more important members will be 
introduced at this point. The names that follow are arranged 
in the order in which they were affixed to the constitution, as 
priority of membership has a definite significance in considering 
any man's importance in such a body. 

The first who signed the roll was Selim E. Woodworth," 
in whom the urge of adventure had been so strong that at twelve 
years of age he shouldered a rifle and a knapsack and slipped 
away from his father's fireside in New York to look for big 

10 The roll of members 'was copied by the sergeant-at-arms with a slight 
difference of arrangement. As his numbers were always used for purposes 
of identification they are included here in brackets, as they are in the lists 
printed in the Papers of the Committee. 

11 Born in New York, 1815; died Jan. 29, 1871. See Annals, 794-798, 
portrait; Popular Tribunols, 1, 247-248; Swasey, Ea7-ly Days, 212-217; 
Eldredge, California, III, 134, portrait; Eldredge, San Francisco, II, 707- 
708; Davis, Political Conventions, 8, 26; Alta, 1871, Jan. 30 %. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 193 

game in the Rocky Mountains. He was intercepted and induced 
to return, and at a more mature age was able to gratify his tastes 
by exploring voyages in the South Seas, service in the United 
States Navy, and an adventurous trip across the continent to the 
Columbia River in 1846. From Oregon he came to California, 
and promptly distinguished himself by leading a party through 
the snowdrifts of the mountains to the relief of the ill-starred 
Donner camp. Resuming his naval duties he served on the Coast 
during the period of the war, but resigned in 1849 to accept a 
seat in the state senate, and held the position for two terms. 
Wliile still a member of the legislature he was commissioned to 
raise a volunteer company and deal rigorously with horse thieves 
and Indians that were terrorizing Monterey County.^- He had 
the business acumen to build the first house above the unfilled 
water lots of San Francisco, and in consequence he and his part- 
ner for some time monopolized the lighterage of the port. His 
political affiliations were with the Whig party. He fought for 
the Union during the Civil War, resigning from the Navy after 
its close with the rank of commander. 

A fellow Vigilante said that he was a man of great ability 
and honorable to a fault.^^ He was made president of the Gen- 
eral Committee a few weeks after its organization, held that 
office throughout the period of activity, and served as vice-presi- 
dent of the Executive Committee after reorganization in Sep- 

Frederick A. Woodworth,^* number 4, a brother of Selim, 
arrived in May, 1849, and although his experiences have less 
notice in the records of the day he was widely known as an 
energetic and upright citizen. He was an Independent member 

12 Noted in Alta, 1851, April 29 %; May 14 %; June 3 %. 

13 J. D. Farwell, Vigilance Comrmttees in San Fraiwisco, 1878, p. 10, 
MS in the Bancroft Library. 

14 Mentioned in Alta, 1852, March 2 %; obituary, Alta, 1865, Feb. 3; 4; 
7 ; 11 ; San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 2 %. 

194 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of the state senate in 1857, and his death in 1865, at the age of 
forty-seven, was deeply regretted in the San Francisco press. 

Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson,^^ former commander of the 
New York Volunteers, was number 18 [101]. He was a man 
of political experience in New York and Washington, and was 
the first grand master of the Free Masons in California. He 
had been somewhat successful in land speculations in San Fran- 
cisco, but in 1851 his interests had been assigned to his creditors. 
He emerged from financial embarrassments with a comfortable 
fortune, and until his death, February 14, 1894, he was a center 
of interest and affection in the circle of California pioneers. It 
has been said that he tried to defend the Hounds on the ground 
of his responsibility to former members of his regiment/^ and 
if personal motives affected his attitude in 1849 they may have 
influenced him in 1851 to join the men who were determined to 
put down crime, for his office had been robbed earlier in the 
year,^^ and the arson of Lewis had threatened the destruction of 
his property on Long "Wharf. 

Gerritt (or Garrett) W. Eyckman was number 57 [53], and 
although he was fifty-three years of age, and therefore much 
older than most of his colleagues, his magnetic but fearless per- 
sonality made him one of the most influential members, and 
Bancroft paid a glowing tribute to his work.^^ He came to 
California in October, 1849, from Albany, New York, where he 
had been by turns a printer, a brewer, and a state inspector of 
hops. He was engaged in business at the time the Committee 
was formed, but during the summer of '51 devoted himself to 
its work, to the absolute neglect of personal affairs. His State- 
ment dictated to Bancroft in 1877 or 1878 adds touches of real 
melodrama to the somber records of crime, trials, and executions. 

15 See Annals, 784-789; Swasey, Early Days, 218-219. 

16 Daniel Knower, Adventures of a Forty-niner, 1894, p. 

17 See infra, p. 307. 

18 Popular Tribunals, I, 248-250. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 195 

for he told of amateur detective expeditions under effective dis- 
guise, of dramatic episodes when the Vigilante revealed himself 
to dismayed antagonists, of threats against his own life, and of 
the moments when prisoners were moved to self -revelation. He 
became a member of the Executive Committee early in July, and 
was made the second vice-president in September. After that 
time he often acted as chairman, and was elected president in 
April, 1852. His attitude towards his companions was some- 
what censorious and in 1856 he refused to join the reorganized 
Committee, asserting that their course was timid and vacillating. 
Eyckman became a friend of Broderick, and something of a 
power in the Democratic party. It was even said that he "car- 
ried Governor Bigler in his pocket." He was also a prominent 
Mason and when he died at the age of eighty-four the papers 
spoke of him with admiration and respect. ^^ 

If Eyckman was the Nestor of the Committee ''little George 
Ward," number 62 [58], was the enfant terrible. He is affec- 
tionately described as brave as Caesar, a perfect fire-eater, a bit 
of a dandy, and a favorite with the ladies. He was so short 
that when he once lost his temper over a business dispute with 
Michael Reese he could barely reach to the latter 's chest, but, 
nothing daunted, he thrust his pistol against his opponent's 
portly waistcoat and thundered : ' ' Be careful, Sir, or by God, 
I'll blow your brains outl''^^ At the first Vigilante execution 
he flourished his firearms so desperately that an older man 
begged : ' ' Take that pistol away from that boy, or he will hurt 
somebody! "21 However, no tragedy was reported as a result 
of his impetuosity. He curbed his rash temper in indefatigable 
work, and acted as treasurer during the latter months of the 
Committee's activities. In 1856 he had a much greater scope 

19 See Alia, 1881, Jan. 26 y^; San Francisco Call, 1882, April 3 %. 

20 San Francisco Bulletin, 1896, Nov. 21 i%. 

21 Byckman, MS Statement, 2. 

196 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

for his belligerent proclivities, and played a leading part in the 
more sensational adventures of that day.^^ 

George E. Schenck, number 72 [68], came of a race of pio- 
neers that had adventured in North America since one Schenck 
fitted out Hendrick Hudson 's Half Moon, and another sailed 
upon her quarter-deck.-^ He reached San Francisco in October, 
1849, and immediately engaged in the exciting financial sport 
of buying cargos on invoice, sight unseen, and selling them for 
what the fluctuating market would allow. He had visited the 
mining regions but briefly, had attempted to stimulate public 
interest in the agricultural possibilities of the interior valleys, 
and had nearly lost his life in the fire of May, 1851. His long 
and interesting Statement is among the Bancroft manuscripts. 
It shows an accurate observation of the salient features of San 
Francisco business life, and also gives many important details 
of the work of the Committee of Vigilance, which he supported 
in the sincere conviction that the people had a right to displace 
their public servants when the latter proved unfaithful. 

Captain Edgar Wakeman, number 95 [91], was a Yankee 
sailor typical of his generation. In 1851 he was tarrying awhile 
in the hospitable port of San Francisco, where he first cast anchor 
in July, 1850. Many of his adventures are recounted in a biog- 
raphy entitled The Log of an Ancient Mariner, but most unfor- 
tunately he made there but brief allusion to his services as chief 
of the water police of the Committee of Vigilance, leaving them 
for a later volume which was never completed. 

The introduction to his reminiscences cites a letter from 
Mark Twain, who said of Wakeman i^* 

22 See Popular Tribunals, 1, 235; II, 64, 382, 387; obituary, Alta, 1861, 
Feb. 13 %. 

23 Schenck, MS Statement, 57-59. 

24 Log of an Ancient Mariner, 1878, p. 10. In 1872 Mark Twain made 
an appeal for a subscription for Captain Wakeman, who was helpless from 
paralysis (Alta, Dec. 14 %; Bee. 22 %). Obituary, Alta, 1875, May 9; 
10; 12. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 197 

He is a burly, hairy, sunburned, stormy-voiced old salt, who mixes 
strange oaths with incomprehensible sailor-phraseology and the gentlest 
and most touching pathos, and is tattooed from head to foot like a Feejee 
Islander, . . . He never drinks a drop, never gambles, and never swears where 
a lady or child may chance to hear him. 

James King of William, number 186, was destined by the 
tragedy of bis death in 1856 to become one of the most famous 
men in California history.-^ He arrived in November, 1848, and 
in 1851 he was already widely known as a man of education 
and business ability, who had started for California before the 
news of gold stirred the eastern states. At first he made 
a brief but successful adventure in the camp known as Dry 
Diggings (Placerville), but in 1849 he established in San Fran- 
cisco the banking house of James King of William, thus perpet- 
uating in California the quaint patronymic he had assumed in 
Georgetown, District of Columbia, to distinguish himself from 
others of the same name.^^ Earlier experience in an eastern 
bank gave him excellent equipment for the work, and his insti- 
tution withstood a panic in 1850. He was custodian of some 
of the funds of the Committee of Vigilance, and in the archives 
of the society is a passbook recording the account with this 
pioneer bank. Of his active work the minutes give little trace, 
but his standing is indicated by the fact that on August 26, 
1851; he was considered as a candidate for the important position 
of chief of police.^^ An unconfirmed anecdote relates that on 
one occasion he was so convinced of the innocence of an accused 

25 King was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, Jan. 28, 1822. 
Accounts of his life and death appear in all histories of California. See 
especially Shuck, Representative Men, 563-579; Phelps, Contemporary 
Biography, I, 202-206, portrait; Eldredge, California, IV, 62, portrait; 
Bancroft, California, IV, 700-701; Popular Tribun-als, II, 22-68, passim. 

26 As the son of William King, he assumed his father 's given name; in 
place of the more usual designation of Junior. 

27 Papers, 550. 

198 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

prisoner that he not only made strenuous intercession for his 
vindication but prepared to protect him by force of arms if such 
a course proved necessary.^^ The story is entirely credible, for 
King always had the courage of his convictions, even to the 
supreme point of refusing to '^ defend his honor" when formally 
challenged according to the Southern code which still prevailed 
in California in spite of laws against dueling.^^ 

In 1853 he was worth about $250,000, but he became heavily 
involved in 1854, and his assets were transferred to Adams & 
Co., with the agreement that they should assume all his liabil- 
ities. Unfortunately the subsequent failure of that firm in- 
volved some of King's creditors in a loss for which he felt that 
he was in no way to blame. In October, 1855, he started the 
Evening Bulletin, in a crusade of protest against the corruption 
existing in San Francisco, and his denunciation of crying evils 
led to his assassination in May, 1856, and to the reorganization 
of the Committee of Vigilance. 

Jacob L. Van Bokkelen, number 173, a pioneer of 1849, was 
the first chief of the Vigilante police. In civic activities he was 
prominent in the volunteer fire department, and w^as an alder- 
man of San Francisco in 1854.^'^ 

Felix Argenti, number 187, was the senior member of a 
banking house established in 1850. The curious episode which 
made him responsible for some of the most vexatious problems 
that troubled the Committee of Vigilance will be detailed in a 
later chapter.^^ 

James R. Malony was number 250, and thereby hangs a tale, 
for Rube Malony had such a reputation for friendship with the 
undesirable element in San Francisco that his admission to the 

2« Shuck, Eeprese7itative Men, 563. 
29 Shuck, Bepresentative Men, 574. 
^0 Annals, 624; Herald, 1854, Nov. 10 %. 

31 Argenti is mentioned in Eldredge, California, V, 427; obituary, Alta, 
1861, May 20 i/i. See also infra, p. 243. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 199 

ranks of the Committee of Vigilance was a matter of regret to 
some of the influential members.^- He was excluded from cer- 
tain critical meetings by a change in the pass word, but he was 
never dropped from the rolls. In 1856 he took an open stand 
against the Vigilantes, was arrested by them, and banished from 
California. In retaliation Malony and Billy Mulligan, another 
exile, brought suit against Coleman and other committeemen 
while the latter were visiting New York. G. E. Schenck was in 
that city at the same time and appeared at a critical moment 
to testify that in 1851 Malony had participated in just such 
actions as he complained of in 1856. Schenck further main- 
tained that ''once a Committeeman, always a Committeeman." 
A non-suit w^as granted on the ground that the New York courts 
had no jurisdiction in the matter and Malony died while the 
case was under appeal. 

David Earl, number 264, like Malony, was recognized after 
his admission as an undesirable member, and it was found that 
he was already under indictment in the courts for bigamy and 
other offenses.^^ More serious charges were made against him 
by prisoners of the Committee, and he was finally expelled, ar- 
rested, and ordered out of the state. 

John Sullivan, number 269, was a boatman along the San 
Francisco wharves.^* He was instrumental in arresting the first 
prisoner brought before the Committee and probably joined the 
organization immediately after that event. His wide acquaint- 
ance with the "bad characters" of the water front laid him 
under suspicion in the early days of investigation, but it proved 
an invaluable asset when it enabled him to recognize and to 
prevent the discharge of an important convict on presumption 

52 Papers, 23 note 21; Schenck, MS Statement, 51-54; Popular Tribunals, 
Index under ''Malony"; Alta, 1859, April 28 Vs. 

33 See Papers, Index under ' ' David Earl. ' ' 

34 See infra, pp. 208, 257; Papers, 30; and Vouchers nos. 4 (p. 771), 

200 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of innocence. One is compelled to note that as official boatman 
to the Committee he ran up accounts of appalling magnitude. 

Eugene Delessert, number 439, was a prominent member of 
the French colony of San Francisco, and senior partner of the 
banking house of Delessert, Legieron & Co. He was for some 
months the treasurer of the Committee.^^ 

There were other men who did conspicuous service in the 
Committee but left little record in the works of contemporary 
biography. At the same time some of the less active members 
achieved great political or commercial distinction, as will be 
seen from the notices in the Appendix. Research among family 
records would doubtless reveal interesting particulars concerning 
many others, but it is improbable that it would in any degree 
change the composite type that is presented by the sketches 
already collected. The names of Vigilantes often appeared on 
public committees of importance.^^ Some were prominent in 
the earliest efforts to develop a transcontinental railroad. Some 
were quick to respond when public calamities called for emerg- 
ency measures of cooperative relief. One fact to their credit 
must be remarked. Of all their number only one or two attained 
unenviable distinction through political or financial misdeeds. 
Eube Malony was a notorious black sheep, and some half dozen 
members were dropped for various causes, among them being 
Captain Leonard Tuffs, who was convicted of forgery in 1852.^^ 
A close scrutiny of the leading papers from 1851 to 1856 and 

35 Delessert led in the organization of the French benevolent associa- 
tion, Herald, 1851, Dee. 15 %. 

36 See, for instance, the railroad committees (Herald, 1851, Nov. 28 %; 
Dec. 5 %; 1852, April 6 %), and measures for the relief of passengers on 
the wrecked North American (Herald, 1852, March 31 %). 

37 gee the Index to the Papers for the cases of J. B. M. Crooks, W. W. 
McLean, J. P. Muldoon, Thomas Norris, C. H. Welling. The trial of 
Tuffs is noted in the Herald, 1852, May 20 %; June 19, i/i; 22 % ; July 25 
%; Alia, July 18 % ; 25 %. His name is annotated as expelled in the list 
of members (C. of V., Constitution, 24). W. H. Parker is also marked 
as expelled, but the entry is probably an error, and should have been referred 
to the name of Crooks. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 201 

a search through the newspaper index in the State Library have 
failed to uncover any serious scandals connected with the names 
that were conspicuous in the work of the Committee of Vigilance 
of 1851. 

It is a very curious circumstance that while so many of the 
members, even those of minor importance, have left behind them 
biographical records of more or less interest, little can now be 
learned of the man whose personality really dominated the most 
active months of the association. This was Stephen Payran, 
number 46 [42], who served as president of the Executive Com- 
mittee from about July 4 to November 12, 1851, and who wrote 
a large number of the more important papers filed during the 
intervening period. 

In August, 1851, Payran stated in the newspapers that he had 
then been in California nearly three years.^^ Other committee- 
men have said that he was a professional copyist from Phila- 
delphia,^^ and the neatness and legibility of his handwriting 
testify to his skill in such an employment. More than any other 
member of the Committee he gave voice to the idea that the 
people had a right to assume direct control of public affairs, 
when their elected representatives failed to carry out their will. 
His sincere conviction, his quick imagination, and his ready pen 
gave him a power of expression that distinguished him as a 
sincere idealist from among the more practical merchants who 
did not extend their thoughts beyond the emergencies that con- 
fronted them. He was not always tactful, and evoked censure 
as an autocrat in administration.'^*^ Ryckman, who was some- 
what unsparing in his criticism, hinted that he became addicted 
to stimulants during the stress of his exacting duties,*^ and 

^^Alta, 1851, Aug. 31 %; Herald, Sept. 1 %. 
^^ Popular Tribunals, I, 246. 

40 See infra, p. 336. 

41 Ryckman, MS Statement, 4. 

202 Vigilance Cormnittee of 1851 

Bluxome touched with exasperating vagueness upon an infatu- 
ation for a Sydney woman which ended his usefulness in the 
ranks of the Committee.*^ Whatever may have been his romance 
or his tragedy, he was a respected resident of Petaluma in 
the decade of the sixties, where he acted as a justice of the peace, 
and as "Judge Payran" was much in demand as a public 
speaker. Mr. W. W. Carpenter, writing of him in 1874, de- 
scribed him as a man of seventy who looked twenty years younger, 
and who was still keenly interested in the Committee of 1851, 
of which, according to Carpenter, he was the real leader and 
hero.*^ He lived on a ranch, then just east of the city limits, 
and even now the Payran School and Payran Street commem- 
orate his name. He died in Ukiah, on or about January 18, 
1877, and the county records show that his estate was settled by 
the public administrator, that it amounted to less than $600, 
and that it was inherited by his brother Richard, then a resident 
of Illinois. A wife, from whom he had been for some time 
estranged, could not be found.** 

Stephen Payran signed his name to more than a hundred 
documents in the archives of the Committee of Vigilance. He 
was also the author of a resolution designed to preserve the 
archives, so that the actions of the Committee might be shown 
in good faith to any representative body that at a future date 
should desire to investigate them.*^ Perhaps it was to his fore- 
sight that we owe the survival of those records, and their final 
presentation to the students of the present time. 

42 Bluxome, MS Statement, 16. 

43 In Oakland Transcript, 1874, March 29 14. See also Eoyce, California, 
419-420. Eecollections of Payrau were furnished to me in January, 1918, 
by Mr. Henry L. Weston, one of the oldest residents of Petaluma. * ' Stephen 
Payran, ' ' a lawyer from Pennsylvania, was entered upon the Great Register 
of Sonoma County as a resident of Vallejo in 1866. 

44 Data obtained from the records of Mendocino County by Mr. F. L. 
Caughey of Ukiah. 

45 Papers, 639. 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 203 

Had Payran lived a little longer it is probable that his per- 
sonal recollections would have supplemented the official docu- 
ments which he treasured with such solicitude, for it was in 
1877 and 1878 that Bancroft secured the dictation of statements 
from many of the Vigilantes. Payran might have added much 
valuable material to those reminiscences, but his voice was silent 
too soon. The Bancroft manuscripts are of great service in re- 
constructing the w^ork of the Committee, and they are often used 
in this volume to amplify more condensed and formal records. 
But they have not been quoted as absolutely authentic unless 
the archives or the contemporary press have afforded standards 
for careful verification. They are invaluable, however, for their 
accounts of the beginning of the Committee of 1851, since there 
are no official documents and no press reports that tell the steps 
that were taken to form the protective association that had been 
so widely advocated during the first week of June. 

The clearest statement of the preliminaries of organization 
was given by James Neall, Jr.*^ He said that on Sunday, June 8, 
he discussed the perilous condition of society with his neighbor, 
George Oakes. The latter suggested that they visit Sam Bran- 
nan and consult him as to the possibility of effecting improve- 
ment. Brannan was found in his office in company with his 
clerk, A. Wardwell, and the four men decided to summon a larger 
group to consider the situation of the city. A list was compiled 
without delay and notices were written asking various reliable 
men to invite other responsible citizens to meet on the following 
noon at the California Engine House. There was a most satis- 
factory response to this appeal, and after some debate on the 
course that should be followed the meeting adjourned, to reas- 
semble in the evening at Brannan 's building, on Sansome and 
Bush streets. There the plan of organization took definite shape. 

- 46 James Neall, Jr., MS Statement, 1-3. See extracts in Appendix, 
pp. 457-458. 

204 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

and the name "Committee of Vigilance" was formally adopted. 
Previous to this the term had not been generally current in 
California, although it was by no means unknown.*^ Both 
' ' Committee of Safety ' ' and ' ' Committee of Vigilance ' ' had been 
used in the article by "Justice" in the Alta of June 8, and 
Bancroft said that after a discussion of various titles in the 
meeting on Monday night "Committee of Vigilance" was unani- 
mously chosen. ^^ From that time it has acquired a significance 
based on the precedents set in San Francisco, and as used in this 
volume it connotes a group of responsible citizens, bound together 
by a permanent organization, with the declared purpose of pro- 
tecting lives and property in emergencies where lawful means 
prove ineffective.*^ 

No minutes have been preserved of this, the third meeting, 
but it is perfectly evident that the harassed citizens of San 
Francisco instinctively turned fo the old American expedient of 
creating a social equipment by entering into a formal compact. 
They adopted a constitution — a brief and simple statement of 

47 See supra, p. 120. The Alta, 1850, July 19 %, announced that a 
■''Vigilance Committee" of fifteen had been appointed in Stockton, to ask 
the state and military authorities to give aid in preserving order. During 
trouble between French and American miners at Mokelumne Hill, in April, 
1851, a ''Vigilance Committee" was appointed as an emergency organiza- 
tion {Alia, April 30 %). "Cow Vigilantes" who punished cattle thieves, 
also in the spring of 1851, are mentioned in the History of San Joaquin 
County, 130. "Councils of Safety," "Committees of Safety," and "Com- 
mittees of Observation" were familiar associations of other American com- 
munities. In 1828 the Jackson party in Indiana formed precinct "Com- 
mittees of Vigilance" (Logan Esarey, History of Indiana, I [1915], 299). 
The same name was often employed by local organizations in Texas during 
the movement for independence from Mexico. 

48 Popular Tribunals, I, 208. 

49 J. M. Guinn, who compiled histories of several California counties, 
said that the name ' ' Vigilance Committee ' ' originated "vvith the uprising 
in 1851, long after the tribunals of the people were generally established 
throughout the state (see his History of California, various county editions, 
p. 183 of general introduction). The Cyclopedia of American Government, 
III, 616, defines "Vigilance Committee" as "A term applied to committees 
formed in the North previous to the Civil War to aid in the escape of fugi- 
tive slaves. Also a name adopted by the voluntary organization for the 
purpose of keeping peace in California in the days of the gTeat migration. ' ' 

The Organization of the Committee of Vigilance 205 

their purposes, a solemn pledge of mutual good faith and loyalty. 
This document has already been printed in the series of Papers, 
but it is necessary that it should be repeated here, as a fitting 
introduction to the record of the subsequent months.^*^ 

9th June, 1851 

Whereas it has become apparent to the Citizens of San Francisco that 
there is no security for life and property either under the regulations 
of Society as it at present exists or under the laws as now adminis- 
tered, — therefore, the Citizens whose names are hereunto attached do 
unite themselves into an association for the maintenance of the peace 
and good order of Society and the preservation of the lives and property 
of the Citizens of San Francisco and do bind ourselves each unto the 
other to do and perform every lawful act for the maintenance of law 
and order and to sustain the laws when faithfully and properly adminis- 
tered but we are determined that no thief burglar incendiary or assassin 
shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law the insecurity 
of prisons the carelessness or corruption of the Police or a laxity of 
those who pretend to administer justice. 

And to secure the objects of this association we do hereby agree; 

First, — that the name and style of the association shall be the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance for the protection of the lives and property of the 
Citizens and residents of the City of San Francisco. 

Secondly, — that, there shall be a room selected for the meetings and 
deliberations of the Committee at which there shall be some one or more 
members of the Committee appointed for that purpose in constant at- 
tendance at all hours of the day and night to receive the report of any 
member of the association or of any other person or persons whatsoever of 
any act of violence done to the person or property of any citizen of 
San Francisco and if in the judgment of the member or members of the 
Committee present it be such an act as justifies the interference of this 
Committee either in aiding in the execution of the laws or the prompt 
and summary punishment of the offender the Committee shall be at once 
assembled for the purpose of taking such action as a majority of the 
Committee when assembled shall determine upon. 

50 This text of the constitution is that which is prefixed to the book of 
signatures, and may therefore be considered as the official copy (see C. of V., 
Constitution, 7-8). Another copy found among the miscellaneous docu- 
ments and printed in the Papers, III, 1-3, is dated June 8, and Bancroft 
accepted that date for the definite institution of the Committee (Popular 
Trihunals, I, 210), but the official date of organization inscribed on the 
certificates of membership is plainly June 9. 

206 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Thirdly, — that, it shall be the duty of any member or members of the 
Committee on duty at the Committee room whenever a general assemblage 
of the Committee is deemed necessary to cause a call to be made by 
two strokes upon a bell situated^i . . . [blank] which shall be repeated 
with a pause of one minute before each alarm. — The Alarm to be struck 
until ordered stopped. 

Fourthly, — that when the Committee have assembled for action the 
decision of a majority present shall be binding upon the whole Committee 
and that those members of the Committee whose names are hereunto 
attached do pledge their honor and hereby bind themselves to defend 
and sustain each other in carrying out the determined action of this 
Committee at the hazard of their lives and their fortunes. 

Fifthly, — that there shall be chosen monthly a President Secretary 
and Treasurer and it shall be the duty of the Secretary to detail the 
members required to be in daily attendance at the Committee room. A 
Sergeant at Arms shall be appointed whose duty it shall be to notify 
such members of their detail for duty. — The Sergeant at Arms shall 
reside at, and be in constant attendance at the Committee room. 

There shall be a standing Committee of finance and qualification 
consisting of five each and no person shall be admitted a member of 
this association unless he be a respectable citizen and approved of by the 
Committee on qualification before admission. 

The provisions of this agreement give unmistakable proof 
of the care and the deliberation with which the formation of 
the Vigilance Committee was undertaken, and disprove the asser- 
tion sometimes made that the organization was a sequel to the 
first execution.^- The associates in this cause of self-protection 

51 The Committee had the use of the bells of the California and Monu- 
mental engine companies. Both were tapped when occasion required, but 
the Monumental bell, hung on the engine house on Brenham Place, facing 
the Plaza, was by far the more famous. It was finally presented to the 
museum of the Society of California Pioneers, and cuts of the relic Avere 
printed in the San Francisco Call, 1887, March 11 %, and in the Chronicle, 
1896, Jan. 12 %. The secretary of the Society of Pioneers has informed 
me that it was totally destroyed in the fire of 1906. The Committee of 
1856 installed a bell of its own on the roof of Fort Gunnybags, and at 
the sale of its effects it was purchased for $600 by the citizens of Peta- 
luma, who hung it in the belfry of the Baptist Church. Although badly 
cracked, it was rung on many occasions of public importance. See Popul-ar 
Tribunals, II, 545; Alta, 1866, Jan. 15, %; San Francisco Call, 1893, Dec. 

52 Popular Tribunals, I, 207. T. J. L. Smiley, number 573, said that 
Jenkins' trial ''was an impromptu meeting" (Statement, 1877, p. 1, MS in 
the Bancroft Library). 

The Organization of the Comnvittee of Vigilance 207 

were not content to pledge themselves by word of mouth. They 
were ready to set their names to the compact they had adopted. 
A few may have signed the draft of the constitution on Monday 
evening, but it was later copied into a suitable book, and the 
Vigilantes met for a fourth time on Tuesday evening at the 
same place, to sign the roll and to perfect their plans. 

Lois K. Mathews, in her '^Ma^^flower Compact and Its De- 
scendants," grouped quotations from the constitution of the 
Committee of Vigilance with other citations from pioneer associ- 
ations, and said of it: ''Here again one finds the absence of 
organized and effective government resulting in the union of a 
body of citizens along the lines of the compact idea."^^ Its real 
significance lies in the fact that while the subscribers asserted 
that they associated ,themselves to maintain peace and good order, 
to preserve life and property, and to sustain the laws when 
properly and faithfully administered, they also made plain their 
determination to handle criminal matters themselves whenever 
the majority of the Committee should so resolve. The implica- 
tion was obvious that in so doing they were ready to ignore or 
override police and courts and legal regulations, and to execute 
justice according to their own convictions! Neall said of this 
action : 

They signed a form of agreement to do their duty when called upon, 
and to appear when needed. At this meeting54 there were of course 
many young men not largely experienced in the affairs of life, and who 
perhaps did not realize the responsibilities they were taking upon them- 
selves, what it might lead to; but some of the older heads saw in it an 
incipient revolution, and that difficulties might arise, and among them 
was Col. J. D. Stevenson. Though he sympathized fully in the necessities 
of the movement, he felt its importance, and he got up and made a speech, 
in which he dwelt upon the responsibilities of the case, and called upon 
every man to do his full duty etc.,— putting on his severest military air 
as he spoke. 

1Q1^^^1'?^^^^^^^ Valley Historical Association, Proceedings, YI (1912- 
iyioj, lUo— 104. 

54 Neall seems to refer to the meeting of Tuesday evening, but Bancroft 
placed Stevenson's address on Monday evening (Popular Tribuimls, I, 207). 


The constitution of the Committee of Vigilance made a declar- 
ation of purpose. It outlined no programme beyond the provision 
that a subcommittee should constantly be on duty at a designated 
place to receive reports of deeds of violence, and to summon the 
General Committee for the consideration of cases that might need 
further action. 

So matters stood when the meeting of Tuesday evening ad- 
journed, after some hundred men had signed the roll.^ While a 
small group lingered in the room a startling knock beat upon the 
closed door, and when it was opened two or three members of the 
Committee entered, dragging between them a powerful and defiant 
prisoner. This was John Jenkins, who had that very evening 
entered the empty office of George W. Virgin on Long Wharf, 
seized a small safe, and dropped with it into a boat lying at the 
end of the pier. Virgin arrived in time to raise a hue and cry 
while the thief was still in sight. Seeing that capture was im- 
minent Jenkins threw his booty overboard and surrendered to a 
boatman, John Sullivan, who had joined the chase as he was 
returning from a vessel lying out in the stream. David B. Arrow- 
smith and James F. Curtis, both members of the Committee, 
assisted Sullivan in securing his prisoner, and George E. Schenck, 
who encountered them as they emerged into Commercial Street, 
urged them to take Jenkins before the Committee, instead of to 
the police station, as had been their intention.^ The suggestion 

1 Bluxome put the number at 100 (MS Statement, 9) ; Ryckman at 75 or 
80 (MS Statement, 4). 

2 Details of the capture were given by Schenck (MS Statement, 35-38) ; 
and by J. D. Farwell (MS Statement, 6). 

The Committee at Work 209 

was adopted, and in a few minutes the newly pledged Vigilantes 
faced the first acute problem to arise under their self-assumed 

In this case there was no doubt as to the overt act of violence 
nor as to the need for assembling the General Committee. Sud- 
denly the bell of the California Engine Company struck a signal 
unfamiliar to the ears of San Francisco i^ two measured taps, a 
pause, two taps, another interval, and again the two notes, until 
the attention of every man within its sound had been caught by 
the summons. Quickly tjie ]Monumental bell echoed the call : two 
strokes and silence ; two, and two, and two ! Then San Francisco 
swarmed into the humming streets, and as the initiated passed 
swiftly to the rendezvous at Brannan's building, a mystified 
crowd ran behind. Without there was excitement; men knocked 
at the guarded door, whispered a pass word, and gained admis- 
sion, or asked in vain because they were ignorant of the counter- 
sign.* "Within there was hasty consultation, initial confusion, 
and swiftly emerging order. There was a chairman, Brannan,^ 
and a secretary, Bluxome. An immediate trial was decreed. A 
jury was selected ; Schenck was appointed prosecuting attorney ;' 
the particulars of the theft were rehearsed by witnesses. The 
evidence was conclusive ; the verdict was ' ' guilty. ' '" 

3 Neall told Bancroft that the California bell was tapped some twenty 
times bv George J. Oakes (Popular Tribunals, I, 229). The Monumental 
bell sounded a few minutes before ten o'clock (Herald, 1851, June 11 %). 
Some reports said the signal was three taps. 

^Papers, 22-23. It may have been upon this occasion that ''Lewis" 
was the countersign. See supra, p. 183. 

5 Farwell, MS Stfltement, 6. 

6 Schenck, MS Statement, 36. 

7 The theft of the safe was proved beyond question (Coleman, MS State- 
ment, 19-21; Farwell, MS Statement, 7). J. C. L. WadsAvorth said: "The 
doors were closed, and no one allowed in but those we knew, officers were 
chosen for the meeting, which being organized, we proceeded to the evi- 
dence. We heard the testimony, and after it was all in, a committee was 
appointed to step one side and deliberate upon it and bring in a verdict, 
and say what should be done with the man. This committee went to a corner 
of the room, and after consultation for a while brought in a verdict of guilty, 

210 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

In the course of the trial it was shown that Jenkins hailed 
from Australia and was reputed to be an ex-convict. In San 
Francisco he had kept a vicious lodging house known as the 
Uncle Sam, which he had sold in May to fellow- Australians, jMr. 
and ]\Irs, Connolly, who had sought to change its reputation by 
renaming it The Shipman 's Arms. It also appeared that Jenkins 
was regarded with growing aversion even by his own comrades, 
since Connolly had died suddenly soon after the transfer, and 
the widow had consoled herself all too quickly by a questionable 
intimacy with the former proprietor.^ The theft of the safe was 
not, in itself, very serious, as it had contained but little money, 
and had been successfully salvaged by a skilful use of oyster 
tongs.^ But grand larceny rendered the thief liable to the death 
penalty of the statutes of 1851, his previous bad record told 
heavily against him, and he deliberately excited his captors to a 
dangerous pitch of resentment by cursing them vigorously and 
by boasting that he would quickly be rescued. In spite of all this, 
the members of the Committee hesitated to assume the responsi- 
bility of executioners. While they vacillated AVilliam A. Howard 
strode forward, threw his cap on the table, faced the meeting and 
said, briefly: ''Gentlemen, as I understand it, we came here to 
hang somebody !"^^ The effect was electric, and the meeting 
voted to hang Jenkins without delay. 

A clergyman was summoned to confer with the condemned 
man, who gave no sign of penitence or of apprehension. In the 
interval that ensued William T. Coleman sought to obtain a post- 
ponement of execution until morning, urging that it was unmanly 

and the sentence of death was pronounced on the man" (MS Vigilance 
Committees — Miscellany, 23). At the coroner's investigation Brannan swore 
that the prisoner had a fair hearing before sixty or eighty persons, who gave 
a unanimous verdict of guilty {Papers, 24). 

8 For the affair with Mrs. Connolly, see Papers, 45, 53-57. 

9Schenck, MS Statement, 37; Herald, 1851, June 11 %. 

10 Farwell, MS Statement, 7. Eyckman said that even Sam Brannan 
showed something of the white feather on this occasion (MS Statement, 4). 

The Committee at Work 211 

to act under cover of darknes and secrecy. But the town was 
rousing to a high pitch of excitement, and the majority feared 
delay. Reports of the existence of a secret committee leagued 
for the protection of society had spread like wildfire, and even 
while the trial was in progress scores of the most prominent 
citizens were enrolling as members.^^ It was rumored, at the 
same time, that the rougher element was no less active, that it 
was organizing for a rescue, and that David C. Broderick was out 
with all his strength to oppose any illegal steps that the Com- 
mittee might contemplate.^^ 

The Reverend Flavel S. Mines, rector of Trinity Church, 
presently arrived and was closeted long with the vindictive pris- 
oner—so long that Ryckman finally intervened. ''Mr. Mines," 
he said, ''You have taken about three quarters of an hour, and I 
want you to bring this prayer business to a rapid close. I am 
going to hang this man in half an hour!"^^ The clergyman 
reluctantly withdrew, admitting that Jenkins was incorrigible,^^ 
and :SIy, Ryckman encountered no further hindrances in the 
prosecution of his duties. A fair criticism of this first execution 
was made by him, much later, when he said:^^ "Every man who 
was convicted and sentenced to death signed his own confession, 
except Jenkins, who was somewhat hastily disposed of. ' ' 

It is very evident that there was haste and excitement and 
violent resentment against the defiant, surly attitude of the 
prisoner. Even Coleman was at last so antagonized by his insults 
that he no longer opposed immediate execution, and consented 

11 Coleman, MS Statement, 19-20; and his ''San Francisco Vigilance 
Committees," Century, XLIII (1891), 136. Schenck said that over eighty 
joined during the evening (MS Statement, 36). 

12 Kyckman, MS Statement, 2. 

13 Ryckman, MS Statement, 2. 

14 See Papers, 309. When Jenkins was convinced that his fate was 
sealed, he asked only for a drink of liquor and a cigar, accepted these 
small favors coolly, and met his death without further protest (Herald, 
1851, June 11 %). 

15 Ryckman, MS Statement, 9. 

212 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

to serve with Wakeman, Schenck and probabl}^ James F. Curtis, 
as a subcommittee to make ready for the hanging.^® He said of 
the final decision : 

The very circumstances of this crime having been committed in the 
teeth and at the moment of our organization, and in defiance of it, the 
defiant position of the prisoner, and the advices we had of threatened and 
certain resistance, not by law officers, but the abandoned criminals, — all 
tended to resolve the Committee to the most prompt action, and to the 
severest punishment of Jenkins. 

While the majority of the Committee advocated summary 
action lest delay might defeat their plans, they felt that it wa^ 
necessary to ascertain whether or not the community at large 
would support them in their self -assumed office. Sam Brannan, 
therefore, was appointed to address the men without, and to ask 
for an expression of their sentiments.^^ The events of the even- 
ing were thenceforth shifted to the open streets, and we can find 
full reports in the contemporary newspapers/^ 

At a quarter before one o 'clock Brannan mounted a sand dune 
near the place of trial, the crowd closed in about him, and he 
told them of the formation of the Committee, the arrest of 
Jenkins, and his trial for grand larceny. He recounted the 
nature of the evidence, the clear proof of guilt, the conviction, 
and the sentence of death within an hour on the public square. 
Then he demanded that his auditors declare whether or not this 
action should be approved. The response was a tumultous cry of 
* 'Yes ! ' ' mingled with cheers and some dissenting ' ' Noes ! ' ' Next 
came a voice from below : ' ' Who is the speaker ? ' ' Mr. Brannan 
was named — and no name was more familiar than his. Another 
voice: ''Who are the Committee?" But the prudent and 

16 Coleman, MS Statement, 21 ; Schenck, MS Statement, 39 ; Wakeman, 
Log, 139. 

17 Wadsworth accompanied him (MS Vigilance Committees — Miscellany, 

18 Especially in the Herald, 1851, June 11, and in the evidence before the 
coroner's inquest, printed in the newspapers and in the Papers, 14-27. 




The Cow/mittee at Work 213 

sympathetic assemblage raised a warning cry : ' ' No names ! no 
names ! ' ' and then divided, some hurrying to the Plaza to watch 
developments there, and some remaining behind to await the 
appearance of Jenkins. 

A little before two o 'clock the Committee came from the- build- 
ing. The handcuffed prisoner and two guards walked within a 
circle of rope held by a watchful cordon. The rest of the Vigi- 
lantes surrounded them in solid ranks. All were armed, and little 
George Ward marched valiantly behind the towering Australian, 
flourishing his pistol and announcing that at the first hint of 
resistance he would shoot to kill.^^ While the bells of the engine 
companies tolled a heavy dirge, the orderly procession moved 
through Sansome Street to California, thence to Montgomery 
and to Clay, and so towards Portsmouth Square. At Clay and 
Kearny streets a hostile group vainly attempted a rescue. The 
police also appeared, but faltered before the drawn pistols of the 
committeemen, and the Vigilantes swept irresistibly forward into 
the open Plaza. The subcommittee had arranged for the execu- 
tion on the porch of the Old Adobe. Before that point was 
reached another hand rigged a block on the liberty pole, and the 
crowd was diverted in that direction, but a horrified cry of protest 
warned the hangmen from this unfitting gallows. The moments 
that followed were vividly described by Shenck r*^ 

While some one was taking down tlie block, a rush was made by some 
of the friends of Jenkins, who attempted to rescue him. They got hold 
of his legs under the rope and pulled him down while the rope was being 
put around the beam of the old adobe building at the corner of the Plaza, 
the old Custom House. The other party pulled the rope, and he was 
really strangled before he was raised up. He was dragged from the 
Liberty Pole to the adobe building with the rope around his neck, a dis- 
tance of about 125 feet, while his friends were hanging on to his legs, 
and he was really killed before he reached the latter place. 

19 Bluxome, MS Statement, 10. 

20 Schenck, MS Statement, 39. The attempted rescue was described at 
the inquest, and by Coleman (MS Statement, 22). 

214 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

It is a grewsonie picture, showing a frenzied struggle in which 
the members of the Committee triumphed only through their 
physical ability to hold off the opposing forces at the point of the 
pistol. At the last crucial moment, in strange contradiction to 
the spirit of the hour, Sam Brannan called out : ' ' Every lover of 
liberty and good order lay hold of the rope ! ' ' and as many men 
as could do so put their hands to the tackle that lifted Jenkins to 
his death. 2^ With grim determination they held him there till life 
was absolutely extinct, while fitful moonlight pierced the drifting 
fog, and about the Plaza gleamed the lights of the gambling halls, 
where the games ran on, unchecked by the tragedy of the sterner 
game without.^^ 

Bluxome, Ward, and perhaps others, stood guard over the 
body till morning. Then came Edward Gallagher, coroner, who 
cut it down and straightway impaneled a jury to make official 
inquiry into the cause of this violent death. Full reports of the 
testimony were printed in the San Francisco papers. As in the 
case of Lewis, transcripts of the evidence are preserved among 
the documents of the Committee. A few scraps of paper appear 
to be original records of the actual discussions of the jury in 
arriving at a verdict, and point to a very close connection between 
that body and some member of the Committee itself. 

Among the manuscripts in the Bancroft Library is a dictation 
by A. M. Comstock, one of the jury, who said that at first there 
was great difficulty in determining anything respecting the cause 
of death, many witnesses refusing to give answers that might 
incriminate them, and others finding it impossible to identify 

21 T. J. L. Smiley, MS Statement, 1877, p. 1. 

22 A vivid picture of this scene is given in a MS entitled The Vigilance 
Committee of San Francisco, 1851, by T. G. Gary, now in the possession of 
Harvard University Library. Gary was not a member of the Gommittee. 
He watched the execution from the steps of the the Old Adobe, but remarked 
no appearance of riot. See also his ''First San Francisco Vigilance Gom- 
mittee," Internatiojial Eeview, XI (1881), 78-88; Edward Bosqui, Memoirs, 
1904, pp. 55-56; illustration in Annals, 343. 


The Committee at Work 215 

more than one or two of the chief actors-.-^ Members of the police 
force testified as to the attempted rescue, and the violence with 
which it was repulsed. All were reluctant to name the citizens 
implicated, and Officer Noyce swore that he feared for his own 
life if he should tell what he had seen. The Herald stated that 
the court was cleared at his request even of reporters. Little of 
his evidence w^as printed, but the testimony in the Vigilance 
Committee Papers includes a fuller statement, although it does 
not mention the clearing of the room. It is thus evident that the 
Committee learned exactly what happened behind the closed doors 
of the court, and had immediate knowledge of the very facts the 
timid witness feared to divulge.-* 

Hall McAllister testified that he had watched people entering 
Brannan's office after whispering a pass word to a guard at the 
door. He gave the names of several whom he recognized there 
and on the Plaza, but he asserted that he neither assisted in the 
trial, nor sympathized with those who held the rope. Broderick 
also identified several participants in the night's work, and 
related his own attempt to frustrate their efforts. Ira Cole, one 
of Broderick 's follow^ers, stated that a third of the crowd was in 
favor of releasing the prisoner. That significant sentence was 
omitted from the Committee's transcript of evidence. Unim- 
portant testimony was given by five or six other citizens and by 
some half dozen members of the Committee, although most of the 
latter exhibited signs of partial or complete amnesia concerning 
the events in which they had been so actively engaged. 

The inquiry occupied parts of three days. During its progress 
it became more and more certain that the community was pre- 
pared to give hearty support to the executioners of Jenkins. 
Secrecy, therefore, was less vital to the committeemen, and on 
the second day of the inquest Sam Brannan divulged more 

23 Comstock, in MS Vigilance Committees — Miscellany, 38-39. 
^'i Papers, 18-20. 

216 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

information than any member had previously been willing to 
vouchsafe. He acknowledged the existence of the Committee, and 
its instrumentality in the trial and the lynching, but he still 
refused to give any names on the ground that threats had been 
made against the lives of those involved. But names were soon 
given. The papers of June 13 printed an official announcement 
of the organization and purposes of the Committee of Vigilance 
signed by the first hundred and eighty members, who informed 
the public that they were all equally responsible for the execu- 
tion of Jenkins. The constitution was printed in full, and the 
citizens at large were invited to join the association, and to 
assist in establishing good order in San Francisco. ^^ At the 
inquest on the same day James C. Ward and F. A. Woodworth 
frankly avowed their connection with the Committee and swore 
that Jenkins had a full and fair trial and was justly condemned. 
Early in'the afternoon of June 13, the jury returned the fol- 
lowing verdict : 

We, the Jurors of a Jury of Inquest empanelled by the Coroner of 
the county of San Francisco to inquire into the cause of the death of one 
John Jenkins, alias Simpton,26 do find upon their oaths that the said 
Jenkins alias Simpton, came to his death on the morning of the 11th of 
June, between the hours of two and three o'clock, by violent means, by 
strangulation, caused by being suspended by the neck with a rope 
attached to the [south] end of the adobe building on the Plaza, at the 
hands of, and in pursuance of a preconceived action on the part of an 
association of citizens, styling themselves a Committee of Vigilance, of 
whom the following members are implicated by direct testimony, to wit: 
Capt. Edgar Wakeman, W. M. H. Jones, James C. Ward, Edward A. King, 
T. K. Battelle, Benj. Eeynolds, J. S. Eagan, J. C. Derby, and Samuel 
Brannan; and the following members by their voluntary avowal of par- 
ticipation in the act: (Here follows a list of members of the Vigilance 
Committee published yesterday morning.) A unanimous verdict. 

T. M. Leavenworth, Foreman. 

25 See infra, p. 459. 

26 See Papers, 72 note 2. 

The Comnvittee at Work 217 

The verdict appeared in the papers of the fourteenth, which 
also informed the public, over the same signatures that had been 
attached to the Vigilante communications of the previous day, 
that the Committee had 

Besolved, That we, members of the Vigilance Committee, remark with 
surprise the invidious verdict rendered by the Coroner 's Jury after their 
inquest upon the body of Jenkins, alias Simpton, after we have all notified 
the said jury and the public that we were all participators in the trial and 
execution of said Jenkins. We desire that the public will understand that 
Capt. E. Wakeman, W. H. Jones, James C. Ward, Edward A. King, T. K. 
Battelle, Benj. Reynolds, J. S. Eagan, J. C. Derby and Samuel Brannan, 
have been unnecessarily picked from our numbers, as the Coroner's jury 
have had full evidence of the fact, that all the undersigned have been 
equally implicated, and are equally responsible with their above named 

The members of the Committee thus kept their pledge to 
'defend and sustain each other in carrying out the determined 
action of the Committee at the hazard of their lives and for- 
tunes." In this case the hazard incurred was not great. The 
ruling of Judge Parsons in the case of Lewis had prevented any 
session of the grand jury until the month of July, and there was 
no way in which the lynching could be brought promptly to the 
attention of the higher courts. Meanwhile the newspapers united 
in approving the work of the Committee, in condemning the 
verdict, and in pointing out the absurdity of prosecuting such a 
large number of the most prominent and respectable citizens. 
The general sentiment is w^ell exemplified by the following excerpt 
from the Courier r'^ 

All laws are based upon the law of nature and when they are incapable 
either from positive imperfection or from an inefficient administration of 
them to protect our lives and property from the assassin and robber, the 
people, from whom all power is derived, have the indefeasible right to 

27 California Courier, 1851, June 14 %. Similar expressions were printed 
in the Herald and the Alta, June 11-14. Two clergymen, Mr. Wheeler and 
Timothy D. Hunt, preached sermons approving the execution {Courier, June 
28 %). Hunt's address was printed in pamphlet form. 

218 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

fall back upon the first principles of government, and do all that may 
be necessary and proper to protect their lives and property. This right 
was asserted by our ancestors, and it is a doctrine peculiar to republicans. 
The people have done the deed complained of and are ready to shoulder 
the consequences. 

Just at this time a committee representing the grand jury 
which Judge Parsons had declared illegal published a statement 
dealing with the condition of the local courts, the constant post- 
ponements of trials, the consequent escape of criminals, and the 
serious danger of a situation which for so long deprived the 
city of a legal body competent to take cognizance of felonies. 
This report was cited by the Herald as furnishing ' ' a key to the 
enigma, why our most respectable citizens should be found at 
dead of night hanging a man with their own hands for larceny. ' '-^ 

While the press of the city and the public in general accepted 
the Committee with approval, it was bitterly opposed by Brod- 
erick. As Ryckman remarked, he ' ' was out with all his strength ' ' 
on the night of the hanging, and aided Jenkins' friends in their 
efforts to effect a rescue. Bluxome said r^ 

Although we were all friends to Broderick, he was against us as the 
Vigilance Committee; he did not think the people should take the law 
into their own hands. ... I had nothing to say against Broderick in his 
position, because his theory was good enough, but there is a time when 
men should take the law into their own hands. 

Broderick 's evidence before the coroner's jury, as printed in 
the Herald, characterized the Committee as ''very bad men."^^ 
He reiterated his convictions more forcibly in the course of a 
mass meeting held on the Plaza on the Thursday following the 
lynching. This was an adjournment from a meeting of "Wednes- 
day, when a crowd without any particular object or leader 

28 Report and editorial, Herald, 1851, June 12. 

29 Bluxome, MS Statement, 10. 

30 Broderick stated that W. H. Jones was ' ' in favor of hanging every- 
body not belonging to the Committee. He was very violent: he said "To 
h — 1 with all the courts, let's take care of ourselves' " (Herald, 1851, June 
12 %). 

The Committee at Work 219 

boisterously commended the execution and handled with great 
roughness Mr. H. K. W. Clark, who ventured to express his dis- 
approval. The meeting on Thursday afternoon was one of the 
largest that had ever been held in San Francisco. ^^ A Mr. Hoag 
offered a series of resolutions of the most radical nature. He 
maintained that the people had a ''right to change their laws 
whenever they w^ere nugatory and insufficient, ' ' and he proposed 
that they should then and there "resolve themselves back into 
their original elements, return to a state of nature, and commence 
again." He called for an immediate election where the people 
might adopt new criminal regulations, and elect officials to 
administer ''The Peoples' Law." In reporting the meeting the 
Herald used the caption "Revolution Advocated." In a later 
issue it spoke of Hoag's resolutions as presented in the nature 
of a jest.^- They were not received as a jest by the attendants at 
the mass meeting, however. Broderick forced his way to the side 
of the chairman and made a long speech against the entire 
proposition. When a vote was taken the division of sentiment 
was almost equal, and the senator hotly contested a ruling in 
favor of the adoption of the platform. Great confusion ensued, 
and a rush was made to drag Broderick from his position. He 
struggled fiercely to maintain his ground, while his friends were 
"fairly leaping through the crowd to get to his assistance." In 
the end, they seem to have held the steps of the Old Adobe against 
all comers. Broderick put a motion of adjournment and declared 
that it was carried, while officers of the city police, in the name 

The meetings were also reported in the 
issues of June 12 and 14. Ryckman said: ''If our small numbers had been 
known, especially at the first, we should have been crushed by the force of 
the opposition. A great many men were opposed to us, and Broderick 
headed them; he was the main spring of the opposition, the head and front 
of the law and order party, and had hosts of friends. He was active in 
speaking against us, not only on the Plaza at the time Jenkins was hung, 
but at the Union Hotel, at the corner of Merchant St. which was a great 
rallying-place for politicians" (MS Statement, 5-6). 
32 Herald, 1851, June 13 % %. 

220 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of the law, commanded the crowd to disperse. Later the other 
faction resumed control, but adjourned without further action. 
This disorderly gathering deserves attention chiefly because 
it was one of the few occasions w^hen public condemnation of the 
Committee was even attempted. Broderick may have felt that 
the moment was critical, but the crowd gave no indication of a 
temper ripe for revolution, and it seems more likely that the 
astute party leader hoped to check a movement that might initiate 
reforms dangerous to his methods of political control. In that he 
was entirely unsuccessful and apparently he then realized that 
San Francisco was resolved to support the new Committee, and 
that open resistance was practically useless. He was, however, 
an outspoken antagonist of the society, and some of his adherents, 
like Charles Duane and Ira Cole, did what they could to annoy 
and injure the individual members. 

The Committee of Vigilance was thus fully launched upon its 
public career within a week of its initial gathering, and so strong 
was popular sentiment in its favor that the authorities took no 
steps to dissolve it. The verdict of the coroner's jury never 
resulted in any indictments, and the "association of citizens 
styling themselves the Committee of Vigilance ' ' was unhampered 
in the prosecution of its work. Organization had progressed 
swiftly during the hours of the first arrest and trial. The need 
of responsible leadership was quickly realized, and sometime 
during the evening J. C. L. "Wadsworth moved the appointment 
of an Executive Committee,^^ which was immediately chosen. 
While Jenkins was still in custody, Isaac Bluxome, Jr., was 
elected to the post of secretary,^* an office which he retained 
throughout all the activities of the Committees of 1851 and of 

It has already been stated that the Vigilantes preserved written 
records of their work, signed by their names or identification 

33 Wadsworth, in MS Vigilance Committees — Miscellany, 23. 

34 Bluxome, MS Statement, 10. 

The Committee at Work 221 

numbers. The Minutes and Miscellaneous Papers of the San 
Francisco Committee of Viligance fill eight hundred octavo pages, 
and represent hours of laborious and conscientious writing on the 
part of the officers and members. Even there the archives are not 
completely presented, for several items are most unfortunately 
lacking in the collection preserved in the Bancroft Library. The 
most notable of the missing records is a book of minutes of the 
Executive Committee from June 16 to July 4, 1851. Bancroft 
was familiar with this volume when he wrote Popular Trihimals,^^ 
although he incorporated in that work no significant official infor- 
mation which is supplementary to the data on the loose sheets and 
in the statements dictated by the members. The book of minutes 
was never entered in the manuscript catalogue of his collection, no 
mention of it can be found among the documents transferred to 
the University of California, and the historian himself was unable 
to recollect its fate when questioned about it in 1914. The other 
missing items are not important, as they represent transcriptions 
of original drafts which are still preserved. One is a large 
volume in which was copied evidence concerning criminals ;^^ 
the other is a minute book for the meetings of the General 
Committee, which was ordered by resolution but which may never 
have been prepared.^^ 

No one can glance even casually through these unique docu- 
ments without receiving a profound impression of the order and 
system prevailing in the work of the Committee. They have also 
an air of intense sincerity ; the very haste and roughness of com- 
position preclude the idea of evidence deliberately fabricated to 
conceal brutality or injustice, and careful comparison with the 
contemporary press and with the law reports there published 

35 Popular Tribunals, I, 242. 

36 ' ' The testimony already collected fills a large volume, and has occupied 
the exclusive attention of one man in transcribing-" {Herald, 1851, June 

37 Papers, 247. 


222 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

establishes their accuracy so far as verification is now possible. 

As retold from the records of its daily work, the proceedings 
of the Committee were not impetuous or reckless, but rather 
painstaking and cautious, both in seeking criminals and in con- 
trolling the activities of the more impulsive members. The 
methods adopted to accomplish these purposes are perhaps the 
clearest indication of the spirit which animated the organization. 
Let us therefore examine them in detail before a chronological 
narrative is presented. 

The Executive Committee created on the night of Jenkins' 
arrest was composed of twenty members and became at once 
the center of administration. In that smaller circle matters of 
importance received their first consideration,^^ work was outlined, 
prisoners were examined, and recommendations and reports were 
prepared for submission to the General Committee. The larger 
body ultimately enrolled 707 members.^^ It met once or twice 
a week^^ to review the work of the Executive Committee and to 
take action upon the final disposition of prisoners and such other 
questions as required decision by the society as a whole. During 
the period of greatest activity, that is, from June 26 to August 
20, 1851, the Executive Committee met almost every day;''^ 
sixty-two meetings are recorded b}^ minutes or roll call, with an 
average attendance of nine, and it is probable that some meetings 
are not registered. After the reorganization, September 17, 
1851, there is an unbroken series of reports up to May 12, 1852, 
showing thirty-four meetings, with an average attendance of 
eleven out of a membership increased to forty-five. A summary 
of the roll call is printed in the Papers. From it one can tell 
at a glance the members who gave most unremitting attention 

38 See MS Statement of Eyckman, infra, p. 460. 

39 C. of v., Constitution, 3. 
^^ Papers, 300. 

41 Papers, 62. 

The Committee at Work 223 

to the business of the Executive Committee, and can gain an idea 
of the magnitude of the task which they assumed. •*- 

For about a month Samuel Brannan acted as president both 
of the General and of the Executive bodies. When he resigned 
early in July, Selim E. Woodworth was elected general presi- 
dent, while Stephen Payran was chosen president of the Execu- 
tive Committee,"^^ a modification of method which indicated an 
increasing differentiation between the functions of the two 
groups. There were also two secretaries, but only one general 

The disbursement of money for incidental expenses was at 
first in the hands of the sergeant-at-arms, who also collected 
initiation fees, and fines; but very soon all expenditures were 
made subject to approval by a standing Committee on Finance, 
which authorized payments by the general treasurer only.^* 
Another standing committee, the Committee on Qualification, was 
created by the constitution for the supervision of the admission 
of new members.*" 

A chief of police was appointed to investigate criminal con- 
ditions in the city and to make arrests when occasion required. 
He was sometimes called the chief of patrol, or the chief marshal, 
and five deputy marshals, with subordinate assistants, acted 
under his orders.*^ AVhenever necessary a much larger number 
were called to act on the police force.*" A separate group, 
assigned for duty as a water police, patrolled the Bay and 
visited vessels suspected of harboring Sydney convicts. Both 
branches of the police reported to the Executive meetings, and 


43 Papers, Appendix C. Bluxome attended 74 meetings, Eyckman 65, 

and Payran 57. 

43 See infra, p. 260. Appendix B of the Papers gives a list of officers. 

^^ Papers, 60, 91, and Index under ^'C. of V. — Finances." 

45 C. of v., List of Names Approved by the Committee on Qualification, 


^(i Papers, 340, 356, and Index under ^'C. of V. — Police." 

47 On June 19, the patrol Avas increased to one hundred (Papers, 58). 

224 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

often received instructions from that body, but on the whole they 
were left largely to their own initiative in making their investi- 

The second article in the constitution provided for a room in 
which responsible members of the association should be in attend- 
ance day and night under direction of the sergeant-at-arms. 
From occasional reports it is apparent that five members were 
constantly on guard duty, in three hour shifts, and that every 
member was required to report daily so as to keep in touch with 
orders that might need his attention.*^ The first headquarters 
were in the Brannan building, on the northwest comer of San- 
some and Bush streets. On June 17 an agreement was made by 
which the firm of Bullitt, Patrick & Dow, and H. A. Cheever, 
leased to five gentlemen (members of the Committee, but not so 
nominated in the bond) the second story of a frame building on 
the west side of Battery Street, betwen Clay and Pine.^^ 

We have no accurate description of the permanent Vigilance 
headquarters. Contemporary illustrations^^ showed that four 
windows and two upper doorways faced the Battery Street 
front, and the arrangement and furnishing of the interior may 
be partially reconstructed by reference to allusions scattered 
through the Papet^s.^^ At the head of the stairway a door opened 
directly into a room large enough to accommodate a guard of 
forty or more men. It is possible that this apartment was 
sufficiently spacious to serve for the gatherings of the General 

48 ' ' "VVe systematized the thing, and formed our committees for different 
purposes. There was a water police, and other police. Captain Wakeman 

was Chief of the Water Police The city was districted, and there were 

committees for each district, and they patrolled the city day and night" 
(Eyckman, MS Statement, 3-4). 

49 Papers, 97, and Index under ' ' C. of V. — Headquarters — Police. ' ' 
Form of guard duty order, 136; lists of guards, 179, 531. 

50 Papers, 36, 42. 

51 Annals, 562. 

52 See reports on the escape of Whittaker and McKenzie, Papers, 528- 
541; inventories, 654-656; disbursements for headquarters, 823. Kemodel- 
ing the rooms cost about $650, furnishing them about $700. 

The Committee at Work 225 

Committee. A sentinel stood watch over the door and members 
were expected to identify themselves by number as they entered, 
althoug the rule was sometimes relaxed, as for example at the 
time of the rescue of Whittaker and :\IcKenzie.'3 Another door, 
also guarded, led from the first room into another, where the 
prisoners were confined. The Executive Committee met in a 
separate chamber. This room, it is permissible to suppose, 
boasted of the more luxurious items of furniture— the armchair 
that cost sixty dollars, the two cushioned office chairs, the desk 
and writing accessories. Among the other fittings were a supply 
of smaller chairs, tables, two dozen straw mattresses, fifty-eight 
pairs of blankets, nineteen window curtains, a copper urn, cook- 
ing utensils, and tableware. 

The earlier minutes do not indicate that there was much con- 
flict of opinion over questions of policy. In view of the voluntary 
service given by the members, and of their emancipation from all 
the restraints that are imposed upon the lawful guardians of 
society, the harmony and cooperation that made the body 
efficient were remarkable. It is evident, however, that rival claims 
to authority produced moments of intense friction. After one 
such incident the Executive Committee was instructed to make a 
clear definition of the duties of the various officers. In response 
by-laws were framed, which dealt particularly with the responsi- 
bilities of the chief of police and of the sergeant-at-arms. and 

53 '< After the hanging of Jenkins, we had the room open day and night 
for the admission of members. Every man was called by his number, and 
admitted to the meetings by his number, the Sergeant at arms identifying 
him at the door. It was a good deal like a Free Mason 's Lodge. At special 
times, when occasion required, a password was used. If the sergeant at 
arms was off duty at any time, the door keeper, if he did not recognize a 
man by his number when he came to the door, would ask his name also, and 
refer to his book" (Eyckman, MS Statement, 3). Mr. William M. Johnson, 
a member of the Committee of 1856, informed me that in that body the 
members were pledged never to call each other by name while inside head- 
quarters. No such rule was enforced in 1851, for many names are attached 
to reports and orders and embodied in the minutes. Bluxome sometimes 
signed published notices as * ' 67, Secretary, ' ' but the full names of president 
and secretary were occasionally appended to such papers. 

226 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

with their subordination to the orders of the Executive and the 
General committees, and which provided that such orders were 
to be issued in writing, and returned, after fulfiUment, endorsed 
with the report of the official who had executed them.^* On 
July 23 the by-laws were adopted by the General Committee and 
several other important resolutions were also passed. One of 
these imposed obedience, as in a military company, to the orders 
of the chief of police; another required that all motions should 
be presented in writing, and should be signed by the number of 
the member who proposed them; wrangling and boisterous dis- 
putes were forbidden ''after the hour of eleven P.M.," under the 
pain of fine, and the use of liquor in the Committee rooms was 
absolutely prohibited. ^^ 

54 See Papers, 340-343, and infra, p. 278. 

55 See Papers, 339-343, 397. Some resolutions were disregarded; com- 
paratively few motions were presented in writing, if one can judge from 
the archives, and military discipline was not enforced (Smiley, MS State- 
ment, 5). The use of intoxicants will be considered infra, p. 367. 



The activities of the Committee of Vigilance may conveniently 
be grouped in three periods. 

First: From the hanging of Jenkins on June 11 to the arrest 
of James Stuart on July 1, an interval devoted to the investiga- 
tion and apprehension of various suspicious characters who were 
unrelated to each other except as they were common members of 
the criminal community. 

Second: From July 1 to September 16, a term which was 
occupied with events that developed as a result of Stuart 's arrest. 
These included the identification of the prisoner as the assailant 
of Jansen, the murderer of Charles IMoore, and the leader of a 
closely associated group of dangerous criminals ; Stuart 's betrayal 
of his confederates in the course of a long and important con- 
fession, his execution, the capture of many of his companions, 
their trials, the execution of Whittaker and McKenzie by the 
Committee, the deportation of others, and the trial and imprison- 
ment of several more by due process of law. During this time 
several of the Committee interested themselves in campaigning 
for the election of September 3, and secured results that promised 
improvement in the administration of local affairs. 

Third: From the reorganization of the Committee on a less 
strenuous basis, September 17, 1851, to the final cessation of its 
activities, sometime subsequent to January, 1853. 

Such a grouping affords a chronological framework into which 
may be fitted the hundreds of separate documents in the archives 
of the Committee. The succeeding chapters have been based 
upon it, and their construction has further been dictated by an 

228 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

effort to present the more important episodes of the Committee 's 
existence in appropriate perspective, then to collect minor and 
picturesque incidents and to discuss certain special problems in 
such a way that they may supplement but not confuse the main 
course of the story. 

The constitution of the Committee of Vigilance was adopted 
on the ninth of June ; Jenkins was hanged on the eleventh, and 
by the fourteenth the Committee was deep in systematic and 
efficient work. 

It must be remembered that its members felt that the safety 
of the community was threatened by an organized band of 
criminals, while the presence in the state of large numbers of 
ex-convicts from the British penal colonies provided a fertile 
field for the recruiting of just such a company of outlaws as was 
pictured by the popular imagination. It was against the Aus- 
tralian suspects, therefore, that the Committee exerted its earliest 
and most strenuous efforts, and it is apparent that the survey 
of criminal resorts proposed in the Alta of June 8 was adopted 
from the start as the step of primary necessity. This is indi- 
cated by a paper dated June 14, the first report preserved in 
the files. These rough notes of J. L. Van Bokkelen, the chief of 
patrol, give a kej^ to the methods that accomplished rapid and 
effective results. The committeemen did not wait for other 
thieves to be apprehended with their spoils, nor for complaints 
to be lodged against suspected offenders: with methodical dili- 
gence they divided the city into districts, and inspected one by 
one the houses of questionable reputation. The report of the 
fourteenth recommended that eleven such houses should be 
watched for further information, and subsequent papers show 
that the suggestion was followed with such thoroughness that a 
mass of incriminating evidence was accumulated against five of 
the proprietors mentioned.^ 

1 See Tapers, 27-28, and Index under cases of Henry Beck, Thomas 
Burns, James Hetherington, Crockstein and Ward, Jolin Morris Morgan. 

The Records for June 229 

One suspect was Thomas Burns, from Van Diemen's Land. 
He had been for a time host of the lodging house which, under the 
successive titles of the Uncle Sam and the Shipman's Arms, had 
been kept by Jenkins and sold to Mr. and i\Irs. Connolly shortly 
before Mr. Connolly's mysterious death. A shadow still hung 
over the place and over the widow, who had comforted herself 
too promptly with the attentions of the unfortunate Jenkins, 
and again, after a second bereavement, had found another pro- 
tector — a man known as "Jim" Burns, although in some places 
he seems to be identified with Thomas, who for a time took charge 
of her bar, but later moved to McManus' Welcome, on North 
Beach. His house was known to the authorities as one of the 
worst resorts of the Sydney thieves, and he had been heavily 
fined for keeping it open after midnight. ^ 

Burns and another innkeeper, named James Hetherington, 
were considered especially dangerous residents and the secretary 
of the Committee was instructed to send them notices to leave 
town within five days. There is no copy of the communication, 
but the Herald of June 18 stated that Hetherington had appealed 
to the authorities for protection, exhibiting a letter which read 
somewhat as follows: 

You are hereby warned to leave this city within five days. 

By order of the Committee of Vigilance. 

Here was a second warning issued to criminals b}^ the Vigilance 
Committee; thieves should beware of the rope {vide Jenkins, 
deceased!) and the furtive abettors of crime should also expect 
punishment if they lingered within the city. Although the 
Herald had alreadj^ urged the "Committee of Public Safety" to 
command the criminal element to leave the state under penalty 
of severe punishment,^ no one could anticipate how such orders 
would be received. Some of the Committee had grave scruples 

^ Alta, 1851, June 10 %. 
3 Herald, 1851, June 12 %. 

230 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

as to the wisdom of enforcing them at the risk of doing per- 
sonal injury to men against whom there were no charges for 
overt acts of violence. It was therefore decided that Burns, who 
had requested an opportunity to prove his innocence, should be 
allowed to appear in his own behalf, and that the same privilege 
should be offered to Hetherington, who had made no response 
to the notice.'* 

Burns came to headquarters, made a long, defensive state- 
ment, and called several witnesses to support him. The Com- 
mittee, however, was dissatisfied with the testimony presented 
and continued his case, but further investigation failed to clear 
his reputation.^ 

Hetherington responded to the notice by seeking protection 
from the city recorder, and the Committee voted to place him 
under guard until he could be shipped back to the British 
colonies.^ It Avas stated in the papers that two or three hundred 
Vigilantes marched in a body to North Beach, surrounded the 
house of the offender and carried him off to their headquarters, 
' ' despite his remonstrances and bluster. ' ' The report added that 
it seemed probable that such prompt and efficient action would 
have its effect upon others who had received orders to depart, and 
would induce them to give ready obedience to their instructions.'^ 

Once in the hands of the Committee, Hetherington made a 
.statement in which he asserted that he was an American by birth, 
but had moved to Liverpool in childhood; that he had gone to 
Australia when he was thirty years of age, and had returned to 
the United States from Sydney with fellow-passengers Avho would 
vouch for his honesty. Several of these were called in his 
defense,^ but in the end the Committee decided that both Hether- 
ington and Burns sheltered thieves and incendiaries, and that 
the safety of the city demanded their deportation. 

4 Papers, 41, 43-44. 7 Herald, 1851, June 21 %. 

5 Papers, 45-59, 66-68. « Papers, 66-73. 

6 Papers, 59. 

The Records for June 231 

While the two landlords were under investigation, other 
questionable characters were called npon to account for their past 
lives and associates. George Hopkins, from Hobart Town, may 
or may not have been an ex-convict, but his mode of life was 
undoubtedly suspicious. After various examinations a com- 
mittee of eleven recommended his banishment on the ground that 
he was a ''dangerous man." Their report is printed in facsimile 
in the documents. It is an interesting example of a case in which 
all the members of the subcommittee assumed responsibility for 
their action by attaching their signatures to the recommendations 
they submitted.^ 

Thomas Scott, a tailor, had crossed the Pacific in the same 
vessel with Hetherington, and had been in irons en route for 
theft, and assault upon the captain. There was also a rumor that 
in San Francisco he had poisoned a man named Russel.^*^ When 
examined by the Committee he assumed an air of great innocence, 
protested that he did not even know the location of North Beach, 
and was not acquainted with the ill-reputed Hetherington. The 
evidence is briefly annotated : ' ' Here the two men were intro- 
duced to each other, and Mr. Scott finds he knows Mr. Hether- 
ington. ' ' That acquaintance was destined to ripen upon another 
sea trip, undertaken at the command of the Committee of 
Vigilance, which finally decided to send all four of these objec- 
tionable aliens back to Australia. There may have been un- 
recorded information that established their guilt beyond ques- 
tion. The testimony in the documents proved little more than 
a close alliance between the prisoners and well-known members 
of the convict fraternity, and would not have carried conviction 
in any court of law. 

The business interests of Hetherington and Scott were liqui- 
dated while they were in confinement, some of their personal 
effects Avere sold, and before thev left the countrv thev sisiied 

^Papers, 130. 
-^^ Papers, 73. 

232 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

receipts for the proceeds, which in each case exceeded two 
hundred dollars. ^^ The undesirable quartette were probably 
deported on the Crescent City which sailed for Launceston on 
July 2. 

Several other suspicious characters from Australia received 
the attention of the Committee during June. In this connection 
it is interesting to see how many permanent relationships had 
originated during the trans-Pacific voyage. For example, after 
a single trip of the Orator some thirty or more of her one hun- 
dred and fifty passengers maintained a loose association of un- 
savory fellowship. ^^ 

When commenting upon the notices of banishment sent to 
Burns and Hetherington, the San Francisco Herald, June 18, 
acknoAvledged the danger of such a weapon in unscrupulous 
hands, but expresed the belief that the Committee might be 
trusted to exercise caution and honesty in issuing its decrees. 
On July 1 the paper said that some one was trying to create 
prejudice against the Committee by mailing, in its name, to men 
of unblemished reputation forged letters reciuiring them to leave 
town. The paper also made the positive statement that the Com- 
mittee never dispatched notices of this kind by post, but always 
served them by the hands of a subcommittee of three. The 
Pacific Star of the same date aserted that only two such notices 
had ever been issued.^^ 

Only the orders to Burns and Hetherington, and another 
order sent to one Ryan,^^ who evaded arrest, are mentioned in the 

11 Papers, 151-153. 

12 Papers, 63-73. Note the Eeports 62-64 as examples of the methods 
of investigation. 

13 But the Herald, 1851, June 21, %, had stated that many had ''received 
notices to quit, and their good sense had induced them in almost every 
instance to obey. ' ' Bancroft printed an example of such a notice, but no 
copy is preserved in the archives, and he may have paraphrased the notice 
given in the Herald in the case of Hetherington. See Popular Tribunals, 
I, 260. 

-^"i^ Papers, 502. 

The Records for June 233 

minutes or the reports. It is very possible, however, that the 
spurious letters to which the papers alluded are illustrated by a 
document in. the files which warns Colonel James, a well-known 
criminal lawyer, to leave the city without delay.^^ The fact that 
the minutes made no allusion to Colonel James and that he 
remained in town without incurring any censure from the Com- 
mittee lends color to this supposition. 

From the very first day of its existence the Committee recog- 
nized the importance of prevention as well as of cure in handling 
the criminal conditions that confronted the city. An attempt was 
therefore made to check the increase of the convict colony in 
Sydney Valley. The statute of 1850 which prohibited the im- 
migration of criminals/^ although nominally in force, appears to 
have been ignored, perhaps because California officials realized 
that it was futile to attempt the exclusion of immigrants by local 
enactments after the Supreme Court had declared that similar 
legislation in New York and IMassachusetts was unconstitutional. 
The Committee of Vigilance was undeterred by nice distinctions 
between state and Federal prerogatives. Therefore when it 
received a report that five hundred convicts were on their way to 
San Francisco, completely organized for crime, ^' it undertook to 
send back, on its own responsibility, those who seemed to belong 
to a criminal class.^^ It was announced in the California Courier 

^5 Papers, 69. 

16 See supra, p. 123. 

17 Papers, 30. Reference to the immigration from Sydney was con- 
stantly made in the papers, and the following quotation from the Alta, 
1851, May 10 %, is an example: ''A vessel has arrived within a few days 
from Sydney, without her Port clearance. This is proof she was not searched 

by the Water Police before leaving Some of the passengers on this vessel 

have their heads shaved, proving their infamous characters. They have 
evidently been smuggled away from Australia and smuggled into our com- 
munity. The authors and abettors of this outrage deserve to be lynched 
without mercy for the villainy. Is there no authority which can look into 
and prevent such abuse of our generosity towards other nations? .... Our 
people must take this matter in hand." 

18 The Committee also considered taking legal steps against shipmasters 
who brought convict passengers to the state {Papers, 178, 291, 434, 440, 

234 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of June 16 that arrangements had been made with the officers of 
the United States Revenue Department, by which the Committee 
would have access to incoming vessels, and would be given an 
opportunity to investigate the character of the passengers before 
the latter were allowed to land in San Francisco. Such an 
inspection had been made of the American bark Chief, which 
had arrived on the fourteenth, and ''reliable persons, well 
acquainted with residents in the colonies" were employed to 
assist in the work of identification. The Cliicf carried no un- 
desirable immigrants, and the only record of her inspection is 
contained in the bill for the hire of boats which carried the 
Vigilantes aboard.^^ 

The statement that the revenue officers agreed to assist the 
Committee in this matter is confirmed b}^ a note from Captain 
McGowan, of the revenue cutter Polk, conveying the information 
that the bark John Potter arrived from Sj^dney on July 2. This 
note was directed to ''Mr. S. E. Woodworth, For 'Vigilance 
Committee,' " an address which proves that Captain McGowan 
desired to cooperate with the work of the Committee.-*^ 

Isaac Bluxome, Jr., thus described the methods employed in 
the examination of immigrants :^^ 

The Committee sent a boat aboard every vessel that came in from 
Australia to look for convicts. We had a list, which we got from some 
Englishman here, of all the convict ships that went from England to 
Australia, alphabetically arranged, extending over several years. We 
examined all the passengers when the ship came in. They were all placed 
forward, and called into the Cabin one by one, and questions asked as to 
what year they arrived in Australia, and by what vessel, and so we 
identified them, and as fast as they were examined, they were sent aft. 
Those that were convicts we put into a boat alongside, and sent them 
ashore to the Committee rooms until there was a vessel going to Australia, 
when we paid their passage and sent them back. I recollect distinctly 
one old man that I put into the boat, who was probably eighty years old. 

19 Papers, 770, Voucher no. 6. 

20 Papers, 136. 

21 Bluxome, MS Statement, 15. The ''old man" may have been LaAv- 
rence Higgins, sixty-nine years of age {Papers, 517). 

The Records for June 235 

Reports are preserved which cover the examination of pas- 
sengers on eight vessels. They have not been printed with the 
other papers as the spelling of the names is very doubtful, and 
the facts recorded are of a strictly personal nature.-- The fol- 
lowing extracts, however, illustrate the nature of the question- 
naires : 

George Starbuck, Mate of Bark John Fotter. Joined ship at Sydney, 
23 of December, 1850. Am an American, a native of Nantucket; have 
lived in Sydney for the last 20 years — have been an overseer in an oil 
establishment. My last emploj^er was Chas. Chapman — I have an idea 
of the character of the passengers — and cannot say anything bad of any 
one — have been acquainted with many of them for years. 

John Carney [on board John Fotter'], born in Ireland in 1840. Ship 
Elizabeth from Liverpool to Sydney — remained in Sydney 11 years — no 
certificate from Consul — Mr. Carney presents certificate from the parish 
in which he lived — countersigned at Emigrant office. 

William Butt [on board Adirondaclc] — have lived in Sydney 34 years — 
left England in Lord Elden, a convict ship — was a laborer in Sydney — was 
a servant on Lord Elden — I know Capt. Patterson — on shore — 

William Higgs [on board AdirondacTc] — An American — left London in 
the Somersetshire for Hobart Town about 9 years ago — She was a convict 
ship — was not a convict — has not followed the sea for eight years — has 
been in the tanning business since that time — knows of no convicts on 
board this ship — does not suspect any one as being a convict. Has a wife 
and three children on board — first came to Sydney in the Planter a 
convict ship (Doubtful). 

Thomas Jones [on board Mary Catherine] — An Englishman — left 
England in 1838 — in ship Parle field for Sydney — a convict ship — was a 
servant on board — was a prisoner on board. 

Emma Jones [on board Mary Catherine] — An Englishwoman — left Eng. 
in 1837 — in ship John BenwicTc for Sydney — a convict ship for females — 
was a prisoner. 

General Andrew Jackson [on board Mary Catherine], an American, 
from Honolulu. 

22 The lists are summarized in the Papers, Appendix H. See also the 
Index under ' ' Passengers examined by the C. of V. ' ' Four other vessels 
arrived from the British colonies betAveen June 8 and Sept. 17, 1851 ; the 
Sacramento on July 2, with 3 passengers; the Marmion, July 20, Avith 13; 
the Bosalind, July 23, AAdth 8; the Titan, August 15, with 3; the Barette, 
August 22, with 5. They are not mentioned in the records of the Committee. 

236 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

All the vessels inspected by the Committee were reported in the 
marine news under the date of their arrival at San Francisco, 
with mention in nearly every case of the number of passengers. 
Since it is possible thus to check the reports of the Conunittee 
by the records in the daily papers, it seems safe to conclude that 
the former are fairly accurate when they give the total number 
of passengers examined as 495 out of about 865 arrivals.^^ Of 
those examined some 25 were under suspicion as ex-convicts, but 
only 7 are on record as having been sent back to Sydney.^* 

The varied activities of the water police can best be estimated 
from a study of the bills presented on their account, as their 
chief, Captain Edgar Wakeman, submitted few reports of his 
proceedings. Writing of his connection with the Committee he 
said :^^ 

Of course, I joined the Vigilance Committee, and acted as sheriff at 
the hanging of Jenkins and Stewart. I have stood many and many a 
night's watch in the streets of San Francisco, and at one time had a 
large fleet of boats afloat on the Bay. At this time, I was sometimes 
called the Emperor of the Port, as all vessels coming in or going out 
were under my orders and subject to my inspection, the revenue cutter 
Folic being especially at my orders. 

His accounts for June show an almost continuous service. 
There was a trip to Angel Island-^ prior to June 19, conducted 
by ten committeemen, in search of deposits of stolen merchandise. 
Another trip was made to the Farallones, outside the Golden 
Gate, apparently on the order of the Committee, but for pur- 
poses unnamed in any report. ^^ AVakeman's Log tells of a launch 
party to those islands at about that time, but it gives no hint of 
his particular errand. ^^ 

23 These figures include the 15 passengers on the Chief reported in the 
California Courier, but not noted in the files of the Committee. 

24 Alderson, William Barclay, Richard Garland, Thomas and Mary 

Jones, Roach, Alexander Wright. 

25 Wakeman, Log, 139. 27 Papers, 209, 771 Voucher no. 4. 

2G Tapers, 769 Voucher no. 4. 28 Wakeman, Log, 168-169. 

The Records for June 237 

On July 31, 1851, Captain Wakeman assumed command of 
the passenger steamer Independence. His departure from San 
Francisco on his initial voyage to Panama was marked by the 
presentation of a large banner of crimson satin, made by the 
ladies of the city and emblazoned with the words "Vigilance" 
and ''Eureka." The flag was given into his hands by F. A. 
Woodworth, and the occasion was considered a public acknowl- 
edgment of Wakeman 's services to the community in connection 
wdth the Committee of Vigilance. The thanks of the association 
were conveyed to him in a letter very characteristic of Stephen 
Payran, who reviewed Wakeman 's efforts to rescue the city from 
arson, murder, and burglary, and w^ished the bluff old salt a 
''long and prosperous life and in the end a safe anchorage in 
the Haven of Eternal rest. "^^ W. H. Clark, who succeeded to 
the post of chief of the w^ater police, did his work so zealously 
that he brought upon himself censure for extravagance and an 
admonition to exercise greater caution in future. ^^ 

The constitution of the Committee of Vigilance declared that 
the members were determined to see to it that criminals no longer 
escaped punishment by the "quibbles of the law." In order to 
accomplish this purpose intelligently they kept themselves con- 
stantly informed of the proceedings in the local courts. In one 
of the first days of his presidential term Sam Brannan wrote 
directly to Alexander Campbell, presiding justice of the Court 
of Sessions, and asked information relative to the effect of the 
recent revision of the criminal statutes. Judge Campbell replied 
in a courteous letter, dated June 17. He made no reference to 
Brannan 's connection with the Committee of Vigilance, but 
assured him that the Court of Sessions would make every effort 
possible to expedite trials and to administer justice. ^^ 

^^ Papers, 395-396; Wakeman, Log, 170; Herald, 1851, August 1 %. 

30 Papers, 363 377, 824. 

31 Papers, 38-39. 

238 Vigilance Comynittee of 1851 

The Committee watched with interest several cases which 
occupied the attention of the courts during the last fortnight of 
June. When Thomas Yates, or Wood, was arrested by the city 
police on suspicion of robbery . and murder, Van Bokkelen im- 
mediately reported the case to the Committee. It was followed 
with attention in the hope that the evidence might assist in the 
discovery of the men who had stolen a large quantity of jewelry 
from a merchant named Robert. The Committee ultimately 
obtained information as to the identity of those thieves, but it 
was unable to recover the plunder.^^ 

The Committee also took cognizance of charges of murder 
lodged against George Spires and Richard Hall, who were accused 
of poisoning Frank Brewer, and who, like Lewis, were awaiting 
investigation by the grand jury to be impaneled in July. Dr. 
M. P. Burns, a physician entrusted with the post-mortem analysis, 
was a member of the Committee. A copy of his report was sub- 
mitted to that body two days before it was made public in the 
Alta California of June 18."^ The archives frequently refer to 
**The Brewer Case," although its conduct was left entirely to 
the courts. Both men were finally discharged. 

The chief of the Vigilante police had a watchful eye for 
suspicious actions, wherever they might be observed. During 
the evening of June 15 Mr. Thomas Belcher Kay, late of Sydney 
and recently warden of the port of San Francisco,^"* was seen on 
Powell Street in conference with a man who seemed to be under 
the influence of liquor. Kay became so uneavSy when aware of 
surveillance that Van Bokkelen made a special report on the 
matter.^^ His intuitions were fully justified by later revelations, 
which showed that the ex-warden was one of the most un- 
scrupulous members of the Sydney gang. His successful attempts 

32 Papers, 31 note 4. 

33 Papers, 33-34. 

34 Kay's resignation was noted in the Herald, 1851, May 15 %. 
^^ Papers, 32, 232 note 26. See also infra, p. 282. 

The Records for June 239 

to evade arrest by the Committee furnished an interesting episode 
in the records for July. 

It has been said that few attempts were made to express public 
condemnation of the Committee of Vigilance. It is certain, how- 
ever, that an element in the city was anxious to find an oppor- 
tunity to register its disapproval. On June 17 a handbill was 
distributed which called upon the lovers of law and order to meet 
on the Plaza on June 22 and take steps to suppress the ^'secret 
inquisition ' ' and the ' ' midnight murderers ' ' that were disgracing 
the city.^^ The Committee investigated the origin of this broad- 
side, found that it had been printed at the office of the Sunday 
Dispatch, that the original manuscript was signed by William 
French and George Stephens, and that the mayor in person had 
prohibited its further distribution,^^ 

The meeting sumoned so passionately was never held. On 
Sunday, June 22, the citizens of San Francisco were struggling 
to check the ravages of another disastrous fire. The blaze started 
in the morning, at the corner of Pacific and Powell streets, and 
spread fiercely to the east and south, laying waste the whole, or 
parts, of sixteen blocks of buildings, and destroying property 
valued at three million dollars. 

The Annals called the fire ''unquestionably incendiary "^^ and 
it was so regarded at the moment. The crowds that swept 
through the scorching streets were ready for furious vengeance 
upon any one even suspected of the crime, and two men were 
beaten to death by mobs on suspicion of robbery and incendiar- 
ism.^'' A like fate threatened Captain Harris, master of the bark 

36 See infra, p. 460. 

37 Papers, 37-38, 58. It was intimated in the California Courier, June 
19, that Broderick was instrumental in this publication, but the statement 
was retracted in the next issue. 

38 Annals, 345, 611. 

3^ Herald, 1851, June 24 %. Two men were also shot by the police for 
looting. Saint-Amant, who arrived shortly after this, found the city greatly 
in dread of another fire (Voyages, 12-^125). 

240 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Timandra, from Sydney, who indulged in such a violent dispute 
over the method that should be adopted to extinguish a blazing 
tar barrel that he was charged with an attempt to spread the fire. 
It was in vain that he protested his innocence — his Sydney coi}- 
nection was all to his discredit — and an angry mob began to 
raise cries of ''Hang him!" and to look about for a convenient 
scaffold. Realizing his peril, Harris shouted aloud the names of 
the agents of his vessel, Messrs. Davidson and Argenti, the latter 
a member of the Committee of Vigilance. Other Vigilantes, 
heeding this call, rushed to the captain's aid, and claimed the 
right to remove him under arrest to headquarters. A hand-to- 
hand tussle ensued ; the prisoner was badly bruised, his clothing 
was torn and his valuables were lost, but in the end a rescue 
was effected. Harris was glad enough to spend the night under 
safe shelter, and grew so friendly with his pseudo jailers that he 
signed the roll of members as number 468. The irregularity of 
that proceeding is indicated by the annotations ''Discharged" 
and "Not a member."*^ 

This episode of Captain Harris has scant mention in the 
papers of the Committee. Theodore Dahlgren, later under arrest, 
spoke of his efforts to assist at the rescue, and of the subsequent 
charge that he took advantage of the opportunity to pilfer a watch 
from the gentleman's pocket; and on July 14 there was filed a 
letter in which Harris claimed indemnity for the lost article."*^ 
These allusions, however, are fully explained by reference to the 
Sydney (N.S.W.) Morning Herald, for the shipmaster returned 
to his home port seething with indignation at his treatment in 
San Francisco, and published a long letter on September 1 in 
which he accused the Committee of inciting the mob and of 
making the arrest in the hope of effecting a popular execution — 
a crime which motives of prudence alone prevented. He branded 

40 Papers, 41. 

41 Papers, 147, 279, 280. 


The Records for June 241 

the members of the Committee as ''bloodhounds" who ''under 
the spurious name of Liberty and Order, roam continually in the 
good work of exterminating the Australian ' ' ; accused them of 
the loss of his valuable watch; and warned his countrymen to 
avoid the dangers of a sojourn on the California Coast. He 
further protested that the press of the state was so in fear of the 
influence of the Committee that no paper would publish the facts 
in his case. He especially blamed the editor of the Alta Cali- 
fornia for refusing to print a letter on the subject sent to him 
immediately after the fire. 

Many of the papers published in Australia at this time 
reflected great indignation at the acts of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee, hurled against them "tirades of abuse and slander,"^- 
and denounced them as exhibitions of race hatred and jealousy 
against foreigners. That severe judgment was somewhat softened 
upon further information and several friendly articles were 
printed. On November 8 the Sydney Herald gave space to a 
long communication from Thomas Hinigan, a Sj^dney resident 
who had been in San Francisco for some eighteen months, during 
which time he had acted as marine reporter for one of the daily 
papers. Hinigan substantiated the main facts of the captain's 
story, but pointed out that the Committee actually rescued the 
prisoner from a mob that was on the point of Ij^nching him. He 
especially refuted the statement that the press feared to offend 
the Committee of Vigilance, and said that the Alia was so 
reduced in size after the fire that it had space for only a brief 
paragraph regretting the unfortunate episode. ^^ Hinigan 
returned to San Francisco not long afterwards and offered his 
aid to the Committee in a letter that gave interesting comments 
on the public sentiments current in Sydney.^* 

^2 Papers, 746. 

43 This notice appeared in the Alta, 1851, June 26 % (Steamer Edition). 

4=^ Papers, 746-747. The Alta, 1851, Oct. 5 %, quoted from the People's 
Advocate, of Sydney, a letter in which W. M. Curtayne strongly commended 
the work of the Committee. 

242 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The Sunday of the fire was a busy day for the Committee. 
Such squads as the one that rescued Captain Harris patrolled the 
streets constantly, on the watch for incendiaries and for thieves. 
"While none of the former was detected, at least nine men were 
brought to headquarters charged with the possession of stolen 
goods.^^ All of these except one Mexican succeeded in establish- 
ing their innocence and were discharged. The single conviction*^ 
was followed by a public flogging of twenty-five lashes, mentioned 
with approval in the papers of June 25. The chastisement was 
not severe, as the knots on the cat had been removed. So far as 
the official records or the newspapers report, this was the only 
corporal punishment inflicted by the Committee of Vigilance of 
San Francisco.*^ Emphasis should be laid on the difference 
between this fact and the popular imagination, which sometimes 
presents the Vigilantes of San Francisco as the administrators of 
merciless flagellations. Even Bancroft asserted that ''many 
were publicly whipped,"*^ but his statement is not corroborated 
by the records or by the daily papers. 

While some of the Committee guarded the burning city on 
that Sunday in June, the water police watched the Bay for boats 
loaded with stolen plunder. One of the patrols tried to over- 
haul Captain Hammer, of the Medora, who was returning to his 
vessel after the excitements of the day. He indignantly refused 
to lie to, and the occupants of the two boats indulged in a 
struggle which threatened serious consequences before the cooler 
heads among them could restore peace. *^ 

Two other incidents of June 22 must be noted. On that night 
a man named Samuel Gallagher stabbed to death one Lewis 
Pollock in a quarrel over an inmate of a vicious resort. Gallagher 

45 See Papers, 74-83. 

46 Papers, 75-76. 

47 A report on the case of Antonio Barsallio, arrested at this time, recom- 
mended a whipping, but it was annotated ''Discharged" {Papers, 82). 

'^^ Popular Tribunals, I, 260. 
^^ Papers, 79-81. 

The Records for June 243 

was immediately taken to Vigilance headquarters, but the Com- 
mittee refused to assume jurisdiction over crimes of sudden 
passion, and the man was transferred to the city police before 
morning. The only allusion to the incident in the records is in 
an unimportant letter, but it was reported in the newspapers. It 
is of interest as an example of the Committee's policy of leaving 
the punishment of such offenses to the regular authorities.^'^ 

So far, the test of an exciting catastrophe had proved the 
Vigilantes to be men of calm judgment and self-control. They 
had inflicted no hasty discipline, shot no looters, and lynched no 
murderer, although the infectious spirit of violence was rife in 
the city. Yet that night, in an action comparatively trivial, they 
involved themselves in difficulties which permanently hampered 
their work and did much towards disrupting the ties that bound 
them together in a harmonious organization. 

In a brief note, dated June 22, Felix Argenti, an Italian 
banker, complained that a man named IMetcalf had purloined 
and secreted valuables which he had been hired to remove from 
the house of an unnamed "lady."^^ The plaintiff, known as 
Angelina Duclos, was the close friend and the reputed mistress of 
Argenti, whose name had been so potent to rescue Captain Harris 
early in the day.^^ Argenti 's friends rallied with equal staunch- 
ness to the aid of this second protege. On the same night a party 
of ten or twelve accompanied her to the home of Metcalf , forcibly 
entered his house, threatened violence if resisted, and searched 
for the missing property even among the personal effects of his 
wife and daughter, who were roused from sleep to submit to the 
investigation. Several articles were claimed and appropriated 

50 Four Vi^lantes served on the jury that later convicted Gallagher of 
manslaughter. He was quickly pardoned by the governor. See Papers, 219 ; 
Alta, 1851, June 23 %; Herald, June 24 2/^; Aug. 13 %; 14 %; Nov. 18 %; 
Dec. 6 %. 

51 Papers, 78. 

53 The relationship was scored in the arguments in court (R. A. Lock- 
wood, Vigilance Committee of San Francisco, 1852, p. 20). 

244 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

by Mme. Diiclos. Metcalf retaliated by bringing action for 
$25,000 damages against Argenti and others who participated 
in the search, and the suit of Metcalf vs. Argenti et al. became 
one of the standing vexations during the entire period covered 
by the activities of the Committee.^^ At the beginning, however, 
the threat of actions at law in no way daunted the courage of 
the committeemen. At a general meeting held July 5 they 
passed a resolution authorizing the publication of a notice in 
which they claimed the right to enter any premises where they 
had good reason to believe that they should find incriminating 
evidence '^ — and further, deeming ourselves engaged in a good 
and just cause — we intend to maintain it."^* 

Statements made at a later time indicated that the resolution 
did not reflect the sentiments of a majority of the Committee,^^ 
but the course it advocated was a logical outcome of the whole 
spirit . of the Vigilance organization. The frankness of the 
avowal only emphasized anew the conflict between the claims of 
that self-appointed body and the ideals of American liberty. The 
announcement did not pass without challenge. Mayor Brenham, 
in an open letter to the citizens of San Francisco, ^*^ specified 
among other wrongs laid at the door of the Committee that: 
' ' They claim and exercise the right of domiciliary visits, without 
any accountability, of a character not known under any other 
than inquisitorial governments." Judge Campbell, on another 
occasion,^" in a charge to the grand jury spoke of '^unreasonable 
searches, without color of authority." The friends of the Com- 
mittee, however, seem to have accepted its position without fear 
of any abuse of the license claimed, and their confidence was 

53 See Papers, 156 note, and Index under ''Metcalf"; also infra, pp. 
329, 347. 

^'^ Tapers, 178. 

55 See infra, p. 330. 

56 See infra, p. 271, and Brenham 's proclamation, Appendix, p. 463. 

57 See infra, p. 272, and Campbell's charge. Appendix, p. 464. 

The Records for June 245 

clearly expressed in a leading editorial of the San Francisco 
Herald on July 17. 

The Committee continued to exercise the "right of search" 
as necessity arose, but after the Metcalf incident more prudent 
methods were employed. Explicit instructions were issued in 
writing, and the men detailed for such service were required 
to return the orders with annotations showing the succCvSs or 
failure of each mission. Most of the premises entered were lodg- 
ing houses, where the legal rights of tenants were of small im- 
portance to the proprietors. At least one landlord signed a 
formal permit for the investigation.^^ No one except ]\Ietcalf 
sued the Committee for trespass and there is no record to indicate 
that in other instances threats of violence were employed by the 

The fire of June 22 reawakened the old fears of deliberate 
arson. Beginning June 26 and for some time thereafter the 
Committee advertised a reward of $5000 for the capture and 
conviction of any one guilty of such a crime. ^^ A charge for 
posters and another for bill posting, paid at this date,*^*' lead to 
the inference that the reward was conspicuously advertised 
throughout the city, but it did not result in the apprehension 
and conviction of any incendiaries. 

At one time a strong suspicion of arson rested upon a Negro 
known as Ben Robinson, who came into the hands of the Com- 
mittee on June 30. In spite of the anti-slavery clause of the 
state constitution, Ben lived in abject subjection to a depraved 
white woman, IMargaret Robinson, who was in the habit of beat- 
ing him if he disregarded her wishes. He was arrested by the 
city police on suspicion of starting the fire of the twenty-second, 
and confessed that he did so in obedience to IMrs. Robinson, who 

58 Papers, Index under ' ' Search without warrant. ■ 

59 See infra, p. 461. 

60 Papers, Vouchers nos. 29, 34. 

246 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

had a grudge against the man in whose house the fire originated. 
With strange negligence, he was allowed to escape from the 
officers, but members of the Committee of Vigilance immediately 
seized him, and took him to headquarters, where he repeated 
his story. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson were arrested the same night. 
When brought to the Committee rooms they made vigorous 
denials of the charge; thereupon Ben withdrew his whole con- 
fession and accused one of the police officers of bribing him to 
tell the story. The Vigilantes resolved to take no action in the 
case until they had investigated the cause of Ben's arrest and 
discharge. The subcommittee appointed to this duty reported a 
fortnight later that they were convinced that the whole thing 
was a plot to incite the Committee to take hasty action against 
Mrs. Robinson, whose evil life made credible any tale that might 
be told about her. The report was accepted, and the Negro 
and his mistress were discharged on or before July 12. ^^ 

It was during this period of activity that the Committee 
undertook a work of unquestioned value to the communitj^ at 
large — the completion of the county jail already in course of con- 
struction on Broadway between Kearny and Dupont streets. 
The building was under the supervision of the Court of Sessions, 
which controlled the administration of funds for county improve- 
ment. Large sums had been expended with small results, and the 
report of the grand jury for April contained charges of gross 
mismanagement against the officials responsible for the conduct 
of the work.^^ The accusations in no way implicated the sheriff, 
Colonel Jack Hays, who had made vigorous efforts to hasten 
completion. He had tried without much success to raise a public 
subscription for that purpose,®^ and had finally succeeded, by 

61 See Payers, Index under ' * Ben Robinson. ' ' The possibility that Mrs. 
Eobinson might be lynched was noted with horror in the Albany Knicker- 
locTcer (Alta, 1851, Oct. 16 %). 

G2Alta, 1851, April 29 %. 

QsAlta, 1851, May 20 %. 

The Records for June 247 

the expenditure of personal funds, in preparing a part of the 
building for occupation. 

Even with this addition the prison facilities of the city were 
still absolutely inadequate, and prisoners constantly escaped 
from the insecure buildings in which they were confined. For 
example, late in April eight men had broken out of the city 
prison, among them being Windred, of the Jansen affair, and 
George Adams and William Watkins, two notorious thieves.^* 
Watkins and Adams were quickly rearrested, and on ^lay 6 
Watkins made good a boast that he could escape from any jaiP^ 
by cutting a hole in the floor and departing in company with 
Adams and other friends known as Switzer, Welsh, and Gardner. ^^ 
The Alia of May 9 stated that twelve or fourteen more prisoners 
had broken from the station house, which was a wretched cellar 
under the city hall where as many as three dozen persons were 
tumbled together, without sanitary necessities, and fed on a 
scanty diet of bread and water.^^ Adams, Welsh and Switzer 
were reincarcerated and on June 2 they escaped again with six 
others, this being the third escape made by Adams during a 
period of six weeks.^^ Watkins was presently recaptured,^^ but 
the others remained at large. 

Such events constantly emphasized the need for a well con- 
structed prison. The Herald of June 16 spoke of the unsatis- 
factory progress of the work on the county jail, stated that 
fourteen or fifteen hundred dollars were then owing to the sheriff, 
and suggested that the Committee of Vigilance should take the 
matter in hand. Four days later John Caperton, the under 
sheriff of the county, invited the Committee to send a delegation 
to examine the new building."^^ A tour of inspection followed 
without delay. The visitors found seven cells occupied; the 

e^Alta, 1851, April 24 %. es Alta, 1851, June 3 %. 

65 Alta, 1851, April 29 %. 69 Alta, 1851, June 7 %. 

66 Alta, 1851, May 7 %. 70 Papers, 93. 

248 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

largest, twelve by fourteen feet, held fourteen prisoners, and 
the others, six by nine feet, held six each/^ The keeper's room 
was also finished; another tier of cells needed only doors to be 
habitable, although a part of the building was without a roof/^ 
The subcommittee recommended the raising of funds for the com- 
pletion of the prison and at a General Meeting on July 5 it was 
resolved that each member should secure ten subscriptions of 
three dollars each.'^^ 

Suitable blanks were distributed within a few days,'^* and the 
work of collection extended over a period of several weeks. In 
the meantime a further report was made on the condition of the 
jailJ^ This was transmitted to Sheriff Hays, as is evident from 
the following note, which is missing from the files of the archives, 
but may be found in Popular Trihunals :'^^ 

Executive Chamber of the Committee of Vigilance, 
San Francisco, August 11, 1851. 
To John C. Hays, Esq., High Sheriff for the City and 

County of San Francisco: 
Dear Sir: 

Permit me, on behalf of the Committee of Vigilance, to offer you the 
annexed report, with the action thereon; and in their name I offer, with 
the concurrence of my colleagues, the thanks of the Committee for your 
perseverance, skill, and assiduity in bringing the affairs of our county 
prison to so happy an issue. We regret much that you personally should 
have suffered any pecuniary inconvenience in the prosecution of its 
financial affairs, and earnestly hope that the pittance raised by us may 

^T^ Papers, 157-162. 

72 The unroofed condition was described in the Herald, 1851, Sept. 11 
%; 19 %. 

73 Papers, 177. 

74 Papers, 247 note 3. Thirty-seven sheets, containing over 300 signa- 
tures, are preserved in the archives, but have not been printed, as the signa- 
tures are often illegible, and the list is incomplete. 

75 Papers, 347-349. 

76 Popular Tribunals, 1, 401-402. The absence from the archives of 
several documents which were printed in that volume, and pencilled annota- 
tions upon others, indicate that Bancroft sent original papers to the printer, 
and that some were not returned to the files. 

The Records for June 249 

serve to carry out your sanguine expectations and subserve the public 
safety. As a public servant we have much in you to commend, and at all 
times as citizens will lend our aid to assist you in your legitimate course 
of office. 

May you long survive to serve the state of your adoption and receive 
the good wishes of your fellow-citizens. 

Very truly, your obedient servant, 

Stephen Payran, 
President of the Executive Committee. 

The raising of the fund was not completed until September. 
It finally amounted to about $4700, and was placed at the dis- 
posal of Sheriff Hays, to be disbursed under his instructions by 
the treasurer of the society. ^^ The recorder's office of San 
Francisco still bears indirect testimony to this act of the Com- 
mittee in two records showing that on February 6, and on March 
30, 1852, B. D. Baxter and Sheriff J. C. Hays respectively 
acknowledged the satisfaction of liens on the county jail."^ It 
was proposed in the Committee that after these incumbrances 
upon the building were released, another lien should be executed 
in the name of the Vigilantes. In this way it was thought that 
the Committee might be reimbursed when the jail fund should be 
replenished from the county taxes. No record of such a lien has 
been found."^^ 

The example set by the citizens of San Francisco when they 
banded together for mutual protection received the hearty 
approval of many of the smaller to\^^ls. As soon as the Com- 
mittee felt assured of the support of its local community, it made 
a bold appeal for more extended cooperation by publishing the 
following open letter in the papers of San Francisco r^^ 

77 Papers, 622, 729, and Index under '^ County Jail of San Francisco." 
Facsimiles of interesting documents appear in Papers, 729; Popular Trib= 
unals, I, 307. 

78 San Francisco — Recorder, General Index. 

79 The lien is mentioned in the Papers, 157, 161, 602, 723, 729, 740. 
»o Herald, and Alia, 1851, June 14. 

250 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco to the Citizens of Califor- 

Should the order-loving portion of the citizens of Sacramento City, 
Stockton, the Pueblo de San Jose, Monterey, Marysville, and all other 
towns and cities of the State find it necessary, they are invited to form 
themselves into Committees of Vigilance, for the purposes set forth in 
the Constitution of the Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco. 

The object of the formation of these committees is moreover for the' 
purpose of corresponding with each other, so as to be able to mark and 
notice the movements of all disorderly or suspicious characters. By 
vigilance we may succeed in driving from our midst those who have 
become so baneful and obnoxious to our communities. 

By Order of the Committee. 

Friday, June 13, 1851. 

The suggestion met with a cordial response. Before the end 
of June Committees were formed at Marysville, Santa Clara, and 
Sacramento, and in other neighborhoods as the summer went on. 
There was a constant interchange of correspondence between 
these independent associations, and mutual help was given in the 
detection of criminals. But the history of the out-of-town Com- 
mittees is not an integral part of the narrative of the parent 
society, and it is considered by itself in a subsequent chapter.^^ 

In San Francisco a gratifying decrease in crime marked the 
weeks that immediately succeeded the execution of Jenkins. No 
doubt this was partially due to the summer movement toward 
the mining regions. Both the Herald and the Alta credited it, 
however, to the influence exerted by the Committee of Vigilance, 
which by the end of June numbered between five and six hun- 
dred members.^2 This created a large and effective force of 
private detectives, and since the uninitiated were ignorant of 
the extensive ramifications of the society, the rogues could never 
tell when one of the Committee might be at their elbows.^^ With 

81 See infra, p. 347 et seq. 

82 Initiation fees for June were received from 477 members, and 71 
remained delinquent (Papers, 764). 

83 This fact was noted in the Herald, 1851, June 21 %. Eyckman related 
an amusing story of the horror with which a detractor of the Committee 

The Records for June 251 

the exception of the names that had been printed after Jenkins' 
execution, the personnel of the association was shrouded in 
mvsterj^ No secret, however, was made of the aims and the 
methods adopted by the Vigilantes; the location of their head- 
quarters was known to every one in the city, frequent notices 
were printed of their meetings, and many proceedings were 
reported so accurately in the leading papers that it is evident 
the Committee desired to keep the public informed of its policies 
and actions. ^^ 

The members of the Committee were still convinced of the 
existence in the community of some sort of organized band of 
criminals, recruited chiefly from the Sj^dney immigrants. From 
the investigations of the Vigilante police, and the testimony given 
by the witnesses in the cases of Burns, Hetherington, and other 
prisoners, they began to see definite traces of such a criminal 
brotherhood. Names appeared which were familiar on the dockets 
of the city courts — Adams, Beck, Edwards, Ainsworth, Ogden — 
and all seemed to be mutual friends and common habitues of the 
lodging houses kept by Sydney landlords. But the evidence was 
still so detached and indefinite that no one could unravel from it 
an}^ clue to the band of outlaws who were supposed to haunt the 
nooks and corners of Sydne}^ Valley. 

learned that the friend to whom he complained was himself a member of 
the secret tribunal (MS Statement, 8). 

84 See an excellent account of the work for June, from the Herald, infra, 
p. 462. 



With the opening of July the work of the Committee of Vigi- 
lance suddenly assumed a new and much more definite phase 
as a result of the capture of James Stuart, already mentioned in 
connection with the attack on C. J. Jansen and the arrest of 
Thomas Berdue. 

This strange episode of mistaken identity seems almost 
incredible when one reads it among the tales of the California 
pioneers, but it loses none of its vividness when verified from 
the documents of the Committee of Vigilance and the court 
reports in the newspapers of the day. 

Stuart, an ex-convict from Sydney who had been in Cali- 
fornia since November, 1849,^ Avas widely and unfavorably known 
in the criminal records of the state under the aliases of Mason, 
Carlisle, Campbell, Long Jim, and English Jim. Early in 
October, 1850, he was tried by Judge 0. P. Stidger, of Marys- 
ville, for the theft of four or five thousand dollars from Dodge 
and Company, of Poster's Bar. One attempt to lynch him was 
frustrated by the authorities, and he succeeded in breaking jail 
before the case was concluded.- Two months later he was in the 
same region with two companions. As all three were out of 
funds, they ' ' concluded that they might as well be dead as without 
money and agreed to go up to the mountains and rob every man 
they met, till each had $20,000. "^ The first victim was Charles 

1 See his statement, Papers, 139. A story was repeated by James 
O'Meara, who did not vouch for its truth, to the effect that Stuart, under 
the alias of Shaw, worked in the mines in Nevada County early in 1850, 
and honestly dispatched to England a very large sum of gold dust entrusted 
to his care by an unsuspecting comrade (Sacramento Bee, 1881, Dec. 31, 
p. 1). 

2 Tapers, 169, 227. 3 Papers, 256. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 253 

Moore, who was on his way to Marysville to make purchases for 
his store in the little camp of Winslow Bar, near the larger settle- 
ment of Foster's Bar.* The. bandits shot Moore in cold blood, 
secured a quantity of gold, and made their escape. Although 
Stuart's participation in the crime was generally suspected, he 
concealed himself for a time in Sacramento, where he drove a 
brisk trade in stolen horses and engaged in a profitable series of 
burglaries. He was several times under arrest for larceny, but 
was skilfully defended by Frank M. Pixley. 

At one time while Stuart was confined on the prison brig La 
Grange, residents of Marysville recognized him and charged him 
with the murder of IMoore. About the same time other men 
arrived from Auburn to see if the prisoner might be either of 
two brothers named Stewart, who had killed Sheriff Echols in 
Auburn, in June, 1850.^ With that murder Stuart had no con- 
nection whatever, but it was sometimes charged against him, and 
was often confused with the death of Moore, who was sometimes 
called ' ' Sheriff Moore, " or ' ' Sheriff of Yuba. ' ' The people from 
Marysville were so sure of their man that they set about procur- 
ing the papers necessary for his removal. Before this could be 
accomplished the prisoner made his escape and went by a cir- 
cuitous route to San Francisco, where he hid in various lodging 
houses of Sydney Valley. There he gathered to himself a band 
of kindred spirits and directed them in a series of daring rob- 
beries, including the assault on Jansen.*' In April he rode boldly 
down to Monterey, where four or five of his friends were on trial 

4: History of Yuba County, 94, 124; Herald, 1851, March 28 %. The 
murder was probably in December, and a footnote on p. 137 of the Papers 
should be corrected to that effect. 

5 William and Samuel Stewart killed Echols on June 2, 1850. As the 
sheriff had been unpopular, the justice of the peace merely admitted the 
murderers to bail, to answer to the charge of assault with intent to kill. The 
county judge caused the rearrest of Samuel, but as he was allowed to exer- 
cise outside his place of confinement, he easily escaped, and neither culprit 
was brought to justice (Sacramento Daily Transcript, 1850, Aug. 13 ^). 

6 See Stuart's confession, Papers, 231-234. 

254 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

for robbing the Custom House of $14,000 in the previous Decem- 
ber. Assuming the alias of James Carlisle, he appeared as a 
witness in their behalf, and exerted himself in effective perjury. 
When the jury disagreed and the prisoners were remanded for 
another trial, Stuart again went to their rescue, broke open the 
jail, and then betook himself to the southern mines. '^ 

Among the documents of the Committee of Vigilance is a 
stained and ragged sheet of letter paper, folded for mailing 
without an envelope, and once sealed with the convenient red 
wafer of business correspondence. Inscribed on the inner page 
is the following message •} 

San Francisco June 19th 1851 
Old Fellow 

Look out the HaivTcs are abroad and after you both here and down below, 
you had better keep in the upper Country at present, I can say no more 
at present 

Yours S. W. 

This was originally addressed to J. Taylor, Marysville, Yuba 
County, California, and consigned for delivery to Freeman's 
Express. The text and the address of this missive are neat and 
legible, but the cramped initials of the signature are the work 
of an awkward penman, and the same untrained hand has 
scrawled above the name of Taylor the further direction, ''In 
care of S. Stewart. ' ' The tattered sheet guards its secret to this 
day, but stimulates the imagination by suggesting that it was 
sent to Stuart by his companion, Sam Whittaker, as a warning 
to beware of trouble. In any case, we know from Stuart's own 
lips that he lingered in the mining region until near the end of 
June, then grew fearful of recognition there and returned to 
San Francisco to hide with an old friend and compatriot. Kitchen, 
the boatman.® 

T Papers, 237; infra, p. 309. ^Papers, 237. 

^Papers, 62. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 255 

Hearing before long; of a Spaniard in the Mission whose 
house promised excellent plunder, he walked out there to meet 
an alleged cousin, called Stephens, and arranged with him the 
details of a raid. Assistants were necessary, and Stuart returned 
to town to obtain them. It is evident that the fear of detection 
was upon him, for on the morning of July 1 he was skulking in 
the underbrush of the sand hills, near the present corner of 
Powell and California streets, waiting for a safe moment to go 
upon his way, but retiring steathily as he spied approaching 
strangers. It was the old story of the fugitive betrayed by 
his own caution. It so happened that a house or tent in the 
neighborhood had just been robbed of a trunk containing 
clothing and valuables, and a party of men were beating the 
brush in search of the thief. They spied Stuart as he slipped 
furtively behind a bit of scrub oak and seized him before he 
could escape.^*^ His clean, light clothes, still creased from 
recent packing, led his captors to fancy that he might have 
discarded his own suit for garments appropriated from the 
missing chest. This he denied, insisting that he had not changed 
his clothes for some days, and that he was innocently walking 
back to San Francisco from the IMission. "Wlien they retorted 
that he had chosen a ' ' damned pretty way to come from the Mis- 
sion," he became confused, and it was determined to place him 
somewhere in safe keeping. The rooms of the Committee of 
Vigilance were suggested, as affording more security than the 
city lock-up. Stuart calmly acquiesced, remarking that he would 
go there with pleasure, since he was anxious to see the far-famed 

At headquarters he made a favorable impression by reason 
of his apparent frankness and his attractive personality. He was 

10 Papers, 140-143. 

11 Ryckman, MS Statement, 9. 

256 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

a well proportioned man of medium height. One member of the 
Committee has described him as exceedingly handsome, and it 
was said that his features suggested the traditional pictures of 
Christ. ^^ His maner was always cool and confident, his courage 
equal to any emergency. When interrogated he gave his name 
as "William Stevens (or Stephens), denied his connection with 
the theft for which he was arrested, and again tried to establish 
an alibi by stating that he had that morning walked from San 
Francisco to the Mission Dolores and back again, a story w^hich 
may have been quite true. G. E. Schenck said that Stuart's 
answers w^ere so prompt and his manner so open, that it was 
proposed to release him at once, in spite of the fact that he 
carried a pistol and a bowie knife fourteen inches long. His 
clean clothes, however, belied the assertion that he had worn 
them during the long and dusty walk from Sonora. This dis- 
crepancy aroused fresh suspicion, and it was decided to detain 
him over night. ^^ 

In his effort to account for his past life, Stuart went so far 
as to begin a written statement, which is still preserved among 
the archives,^* and is still potent to conjure up a vision of the 
clean-limbed Australian hiding his murderous past behind a 
mask of assumed frankness while inwardly alive to the deadly 
peril of his situation. He w^rote but a few lines with his own 
hand, and the pencilled addenda indicate that Sam Brannan 
continued the statement from dictation, so that the pages be- 
come doubly interesting as relics of two vivid and historic per- 

12 From a reporter 's interview with an unnamed physician in Oakland, 
easily identified as Dr. Samuel Merritt (Oakland Tribune, 1884, April 5 
%). Stuart's attractive personality much impressed James Dows (MS 
Statement, 4). 

13 Schenck, MS Statement, 28. Other committeemen related the capture 
to Bancroft. They varied in slight details, but agreed as to the main facts. 

■i-^ Papers, 137-140. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 257 

In the morning John Sullivan (he who assisted at the capture 
of Jenkins) went on guard duty. The events that followed are 
related by Schenck:^^ 

On taking his position, he naturally opened the door and looked in to 
see who was in his keeping, when he espied in a corner of the room, one 
whom he had formerly known, and he sung out to him '' Halloo, Jim! 
How did you come here?" The person accosted pretended not to know 
him, and Sullivan said, ''You needn't pretend not to know me; I know 
who you are, I worked for you six months at Foster's Bar." He then 
closed the door, and called to me, as I happened to be near, and said 
'^Mr. Schenck, do you know who you have got here? . . . Why, you have 
got English Jim, or Jim Stuart, the man who murdered the Sheriff of 
Auburn [Charles Moore of Winslow Bar], and I was present when he was 
about to be lynched at Marysville, when the rope broke and he escaped. 

In the first flush of exultation over the unexpected capture 
the thoughts of the Committee turned to the unhappy Berdue, 
whose trial at Marysville had been most fortunately delayed until 
the end of June. There was still a possibility of rescue, although 
not a moment could be lost. Schenck, assisted by R. S. Watson, ^"^ 
raised funds the same afternoon to send a messenger to arrest 
proceedings. Captain Hartford Joy was entrusted with a letter 
from President Brannan to the Vigilance Committee of Marys- 
ville, asking assistance in gaining possession of "the person of 
Stewart, the assasin of Jansen."^^ Two days later the Executive 
Committee instructed the secretary to ask the Marysville Com- 
mittee to send to San Francisco several important witnesses to 
testify in the examination of the "Prisoner Stephens. "^^ Both 
of these letters were acknowledged on June 6 by John H. Jewett, 
president of the Marysville Committee,^^ who stated that ' ' James 
Stuart, alias Thomas Berdue, ' ' had been found guilty on Friday, 
the fourth, and awaited sentence on Monday; that the local 

15 Schenck, MS Statement, 29-30. 

16 Schenck, MS Statement, 30. Watson had been foreman of the jury 
in the trial of Berdue in February and had used his influence to prevent 
Berdue 's condemnation (Royce, California, 412). 

n Papers, 143. ^8 Papers, 164. i9 Papers, 220-221. 

258 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Committee was firmly convinced of his guilt, was determined to 
see due punishment inflicted, and was not at all inclined to allow 
a postponement on account of the capture just made in San 

The witnesses, however, were sent as requested. In the mean- 
time others had been found nearer at hand.^^ On July 4 the 
prisoner was confronted by four men besides Sullivan, who posi- 
tively identified him as the James Stuart of criminal notoriety. 
The accused was permitted to cross-question the witnesses, and 
Selim E. Woodworth acted as his advocate. During a part of 
the examination the British consul was present.^^ Stuart still 
insisted that his name was Stevens, and repeated the story of the 
cousin in the suburbs of the city. In order to give him an 
opportunity to prove his tale he was driven out to the Mission 
with an armed guard and an escort of horsemen, but the elusive 
kinsman could not be discovered.^^ An eifort was also made to 
identify the prisoner through the police of the city, and Officers 
W. A. Thorp, R. C. Mclntire, and A. J. McCarty were called to 
headquarters. Thorp branded Stuart as a thief, but although 
Mclntire and McCarty were well acquainted with the criminal, 
they stoutly maintained that he was unknown to them. Their 
staunchness was poorly repaid. When the rogue turned informer 
he included the two policemen in the long list of his confederates, 
and their names were often repeated by others of the gang.-* 

In their search for competent witnesses the Committee turned 
to Frank Pixley, who had formerly acted as Stuart's attorney. 

20 Details of the trial and testimony were given in the History of Yuba 
County, 124^125. See also Popular Tribunals, I, 194-196. 
2-i. Papers, 165-170. 

22 Papers, 176. 

23 Papers, 165, 174. Curtis and Spence visited the Mission early in the 
course of the trial, and reported that they had been forestalled by someone 
who claimed to represent the Committee, and told "everything we %new! ! !" 
{Papers, 169). 

24 Papers, 176, 188, 234 note 31. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 259 

Pixley was now city attorney of San Francisco, and he had pre- 
viously sworn that Berdue was not the man he had defended at 
Sacramento. Blnxome related the interview with great zest :-^ 

Stephen Payran, Jacob Van Bokkelen and myself were appointed a 
committee of three to examine those who came to the door. We went out 
and found Frank Pixley. Van Bokkelen was the spokesman. Said he, 
''Pixley, will you say on your word of honor, if this man is the man 
whom you have defended time and again in the lower courts?" ''I will, 
gentlemen," said he. Van Bokkelen administered the oath, if it could 
be called an oath. We all went into the prisoner's room with Frank 
Pixley. The man was chained by his wrists and legs. He was sitting 
on a long bench, and the moment he saw Pixley, he thought his deliverer 
had come. He stood up, and we saw that they recognized each other, 
and Jake said to Pixley, ''Is that Stuart or not?" Said he, "You have 
no authority to ask me any questions, you are an illegal body." The 
others heard what was going on through the thin partition, and when 
Pixley answered in this way called out, "Hang him! Hang him!" We 
had ropes and tackle all ready, and Jake just pushed him down the stairs, 
or he would have been hung. The people were angry with him because 
he defended all the thieves. Then we knew that the prisoner was the 
genuine Stuart. 

The capture of James Stuart gave rise to a very serious sit- 
uation in the affairs of the Committee of Vigilance. News of the 
arrest soon spread through the community, and the probable fate 
of the prisoner was discussed with the greatest interest. The 
Vigilantes knew that their action in this case would be taken as 
a test of their courage, sincerity, and self-control, and the early 
days of July were filled with hard work and strenuous meetings. 
The records for this period are evidently incomplete, as they 
fail to include some of the evidence in Stuart 's case.^^ They also 
omit all explanation of a very- important change that occurred 
among the officers of the Committee, and which must be men- 
tioned at this point although it may not have been connected 
with the excitement attending the trial. 

25Bluxome, MS Statement, 8-9. Pixlev's connection with Stuart is 
further discussed, i7ifra, p. 265. 

26 Some of the missing evidence was published in the newspapers, and 
has been reprinted with the official documents. 

260 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

A day or two after the arrest of Stuart, Sam Brannan, 
hitherto the leading spirit of the association, relinquished all 
positions of importance. On July 2 he presided at a morning 
session of the Executive Committee, and wrote an official letter 
to Marysville. Another document that is mentioned in the 
minutes of that day he did not sign. It was signed instead by 
''Stephen Payran, President of Executive Committee," and 
Payran was definitely acting as chairman by July 4.-^ 

A few days later Brannan considered himself so insulted 
by the sergeant-at-arms, A. J. McDuffee, that he wished to with- 
draw entirely from membership in the Executive Committee, 
and to give up the office he still held as general president. 
Explanations and apologies mollified him for a short time, but 
on July 8 he finally left the Executive Committee. On the next 
day the General Committee also accepted his resignation as 
president, tendered him a vote of thanks, and appointed Selim 
E. Woodworth in his place. ^^ In making these changes in the 
personnel of the leaders, the Committee of Vigilance gave an 
early illustration of its constant tendency to strengthen the power 
of the more conservative members. The trait is particularly 
worthy of attention because it diverges most radically from 
the inclination towards severity and violence that has marked 
the progress of many other extra-legal protective associations. 

There are few records to show Woodworth 's direct influence. 
He acted chiefly as a presiding officer, but his attendance at all 
meetings was regular and punctual, and under his guidance 
the General Committee was safeguarded from impetuous and 
ill-considered courses of action. 

Stephen Payran on the othe'r hand immediately and perma- 
nently imposed upon the proceedings of the Executive Committee 
the stamp of his own personality. He believed almost passion- 
ately in the legitimate function of the Committee as an expression 

27 See Fapers, 133, 143, 154, 164. 

28 See Fayers, 175, 179-182, 198, 202, 215, 246. 

James SUmrt, OutloAi) 261 

of the will of the people at large, and as an agent to protect them 
from corrupt public servants ; and he felt a solemn obligation to 
meet these responsibilities with integrity and justice, and to leave 
on record a careful history of the manner in which these duties 
were accomplished. Brannan was a wretched penman and an 
execrable speller, and few papers perpetuate his activities as 
president. Payran was indefatigable in preparing reports and 
wrote with his own hand many of the minutes of the Executive 
Committee. One may say that he never neglected any oppor- 
tunity to attach his name to an official paper, and he signed 
and countersigned and attested and endorsed with supreme 
indifference to any personal punishment that the outraged law 
might ultimately inflict. He was painstaking, cautious, yet 
courageous — the antithesis of Brannan, who was all too ready to 
hang first and try afterwards. He assumed leadership in the 
Committee at a most critical time, when the archcriminal Stuart 
was handcuffed in the prisoner's room, and witnesses from all 
over the state were piling up against him a mass of damning 

Stuart finally realized that further denials and evasions were 
useless, and all the members of the Committee seem to agree 
with a statement made by W. T. Coleman, that the culprit ''con- 
ceived the idea of making a full confession, and asked the privi- 
lege of doing it."^^ Bancroft portrayed the amount of self- 
revelation as a dramatic climax to the breakdown of Stuart's 
incognito, ^° but there is evidence to show that it was an audacious 
effort to evade a swift and righteous retribution. Before the 
Vigilante court technicalities and bravado availed him nothing, 
but he realized that his judges were eager to purge the state of 
the Sydney convicts. He therefore resolved to bargain to his 
own advantage, and at the sacrifice of his accomplices. 

29 Coleman, MS Statement, 25. 

30 Popular Tribunals, I, 281. It is possible that Bancroft often used 
verbal recollections of the Vigilantes as well as their dictated statements. 

262 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

We do not know to whom he made his first proposition, but 
in due time it was submitted to the Executive Committee. This 
we learn from a report^^ which states that the prisoner was will- 
ing to make a full confession and to incriminate his various 
confederates, provided he should then be handed over to the 
courts for trial on the charge of the murder in Yuba County ; if 
he failed to fulfill the stipulated terms, or to convict at least 
ten criminals, he was to remain in the hands of the Committee 
of Vigilance. Delivery to the constituted authorities would hold 
out an excellent chance of escape, and the prisoner was quite 
aware that an uncorroborated confession could easily be set aside 
in a legal trial. ^^ Stuart himself, using the alias of "William 
Stephens, signed the report referred to, but although the docu- 
ment was endorsed as correct by President Payran, it was not 
countersigned by any other official and it is mentioned but once 
in the subsequent discussions of the prisoner's fate. It bears 
no date save the endorsed date of filing, July 9, but it affords 
a valuable clue to the impulse that prompted Stuart to unbosom 
himself to his jailers, and to lay bare not only his own crimes, 
but the guilty participation of many friends whose safety he 
had formerly guarded even at the risk of his own freedom. 

On July 8 the General Committee met twice and the Execu- 
tive Committee met three times. At the last gathering, held at 
half past ten in the evening, Mr. Spence was appointed to ' ' con- 
duct the examination of Prisoner Stephens, ' ' and it was ordered 
that questions should be put on paper and asked by Spence 
alone.^^ Coleman said of the events of that night :^* 

I myself assisted, as one of the Executive Committee, in hearing and 
recording this confession, and sat up through the whole night, and until 
the morning sun shone in at the window, before it was completed. He 

31 Papers, 223-224. 

32 The Vigilante (Dr. Merritt), who told of Stuart in the Oakland 
Tribune, 188-4, April 5 %, said that the prisoner seemed to rely on this 
point of law. 

33 Tapers, 216. 34 Coleman, MS Statement, 25. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 263 

[Stuart] -went through the whole range of his many rascalities, gave vivid 
descriptions of his adventures, entering with great zest into the details, 
and it was curious to see his eye brighten and twinkle, and a smile play 
round his facile countenance, when describing his best successes, and recount- 
ing his best jobs. He threw off all restraint or reservation, and felt that 
he was bringing to light a brilliant record that had heretofore been neces- 
sarily kept in the dark. 

The confession is dated, "Vigilance Committee Room, July 
8th, 1850, 101/2 p.m.," and its length confirms Coleman's state- 
ment that it was not completed before daylight of the next 
morning. It did not reveal the prisoner's real name, and it 
touched but lightly on his early experiences, when as an English 
lad of sixteen he was transported for life to the penal colonies 
on a charge of forgery. Released after six years, he was free to 
drift first to South America, and later to San Francisco. Of his 
career in California he drew a startling picture.^^ 

He gave details of more than a dozen robberies, and accounted 
for nearly $9000 in money, beside much valuable plunder in 
tools, household furniture and horses. Many of the raids were 
accompanied by brutal violence. The speaker calmly acknowl- 
edged having dealt the blow that knocked Jansen senseless, and 
seemed to feel it was greatly to the credit of the real culprits 
that they resolved to burn the city again if the innocent Windred 
and Berdue suffered unmerited execution in consequence of that 
assault. Several abortive plot-s were also described, one of which 
entailed Stuart's devout attendance at mass at San Jose, while 
he kept his eyes alert for certain golden images reported as 
enshrined in the sanctuary. The bandit named about twenty- 
five accomplices,^^ but with all his apparent frankness he evaded 
betraying certain matters which he desired to conceal. So far 

35 See Papers, 225-242. Schenck said of Stuart's trial: '^ Witnesses 
were sent for from all parts of the state, and whenever he suggested any 
witnesses, to prove an alibi, or for any other purpose, they were sent for, 
at a considerable expense to the Committee" (MS Statement, 31). 

36 Papers, 225 iwte 12. 

264 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

as we can learn, he never acknowledged his share in the murder 
of Charles Moore,^'' although the trial of Berdue at Marysville 
seems clearly to have established his guilt on that charge. In the 
long list of companions whom he implicated in his misdeeds he 
made very inadequate allusion to Samuel Whittaker, who was 
second in leadership to himself, and shared in many of the 
most high-handed outrages. 

Other sources of information, however, were available to the 
Committee. On July 8, the same day that Stuart made his con- 
fession, there was filed in the archives a written statement made 
by Joseph Hetherington,^^ who was intimately acquainted with 
the Sydney men, especially with those who congregated at a 
boarding house kept by a Mrs. Hogan, where Stuart himself 
had sometimes lodged. This paper was dated July 7, and if it 
was received prior to Stuart's examination it must have been of 
great assistance in drawing from him details as to his associates. 
Hetherington showed the importance of Whittaker's position 
among the desperadoes, and in a later statement asserted that 
Whittaker had plainly told him that Stuart had shot Moore 
and had afterwards exhibited a large gold nugget which had 
been taken from the body.^^ 

In spite of the general knowledge of Stuart's arrest,*^ no 
official protest was made except by the city attorney, Frank M. 
Pixley, whose personal convictions and whose public position 
placed him in open opposition to the course pursued by the 

37 Schenck said the murder ' ' was clearly proved against him at the 
trial" (MS Statement, 43). Stuart alluded to the charge in exactly the 
same way that he mentioned the false accusation as to the murder at Auburn 
{Papers, 231), and the Eeverend F. S. Mines, to whom he made a penitential 
confession, was ignorant that the charge of murder had even been laid 
against him {Papers, 311). It was said that at the time of execution he 
publicly acknowledged that his confession was true, but denied that he was 
guilty of murder {Sunday Dispatch, 1851, July 13 %). 

38 Papers, 242-245. See also note on Hetherington, infra, p. 402. 

39 See Papers, 256, 477, 480. 

*o The capture of Stuart was announced in the daily papers, July 7. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 265 

Committee of Vigilance. The reports of proceedings in the 
Supreme Court on July 8 and 9 show his efforts to secure the 
person of Stuart hy a writ which summoned W. H. Jones, A. J. 
McDuffee, J. L. Van Bokkelen, and Stephen Payran, to produce 
their captive in court.*^ Issuance of the writ was promptly 
reported to the Committee, and the gentlemen named therein 
were given leave to retire from the rooms.^^ Service was effected 
in the case of the three first mentioned, but President Payran 
"was not found, after diligent search." Wlien the members of 
the Committee appeared in the Supreme Court on the ninth, they 
made affidavit that they did not have said Stuart in their pos- 
session, and had never had such custody as would have enabled 
them to comply with the order. 

On the petition of Pixley another warrant was then issued, 
directing Sheriff Hays to obtain the body of James Stuart and 
bring him into court on the following day. Isaac Bluxome, Jr., 
thus described what followed :*^ 

Frank Pixley "svent to work and got out a writ of habeas corpus on us 
for the surrender of Stuart. We knew the writ was coming, and we did not 
want to refuse it, and so I borrowed a long cloak and slouched hat, and 
Oaks [Oakes] and I dressed Stuart up in them and took him to Endicott 
& Oaks building on First St. between Market & Mission. We showed him 
two pistols, and said to him, ''If you attempt to run, we will shoot you." 
We put him down cellar there. When Endicott went home, we placed a 
guard over him. Endicott came back and said, ''This won't do, I am a 
city official,** and have taken the oath to support the government." This 
was in his own building. Eube Maloney, who was also a member of the 
Committee said... "I will put him in my house." So we walked him up 
there to his house, to keep him clear of the habeas corpus. About 12 o'clock 
down, came Maloney, and said he could not keep him any longer. . . . We sent 
a guard and took him to some other place, and he was shifted round to keep 
him away from the Sheriff. 

^-^^ Herald, 1851, July 9 %; 10 %; Alta, July 9 %; 10 %. 
^^ Papers, 214. 

43 Bluxome, MS Statement, 11-12. The committee in charge of Stuart 
was given a formal vote of thanks, July 10 (Papers, 254). 

44 Endicott was an alderman (Annals, 326). He was not a Vigilante. 

266 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The method was entirely successful. Hays was allowed to 
inspect headquarters, but he found no Stuart in the guardroom. 
He went into court empty-handed to report that he had searched 
the city in vain, and had even followed a carriage out as far as 
the Mission in the hope of securing the missing man. This ended 
all active attempts to effect a rescue. Broderick and others held 
a meeting on July 9 or 10 for the purpose of organizing a com- 
pany to sustain the civil authorities and to prevent the infliction 
of punishment upon any citizen without due process of law, but 
it did not result in any noticeable public movement.*^ 

Within a few days the city attorney had cause to feel that 
he was treacherously requited for the efforts he had made. The 
publication of Stuart's confession created the impression that 
Pixle}^ undertook his defense in Sacramento in the face of posi- 
tive evidence of guilt, and permitted perjured testimony to be 
presented. Stuart also claimed that the lawyer had appropriated 
the whole of a sum of $730, confided to him for safe-keeping, of 
which only $230 was due for professional services. He put in 
the hands of the Committee a statement of this alleged account, 
and an order for the balance of $500. Pixley printed in the 
San Francisco papers a communication in which he most indig- 
nantly denied the charge that he was aware of his client's guilt, 
or had connived at perjury; and as for the $500, he explained 
that he had kept it as a retaining fee in expectation of continuing 
the defense at Marysville. The letter is printed in full in the 
Papers as a footnote to Stuart's confession. "^'^ 

Some of the members of the Committee entertained serious 
misgivings over their evasion of the time-honored provisions of 
the writ of habeas corpus,^' and the fact that the Alta California 

45 Eeported in California Courier, 1851, July 11 ^. See also. Popular 
Tribunals, I, 320. 

46 Papers, 230-231, 242, 293. 

47 ' ' We thought it a terrible thing to deny the Avrit of habeas corpus ' ' 
(Farwell, MS Statement, 9). 

Jarnes Stuart, Outlaw 267 

had advised them to obey it*^ may have increased their uneasiness. 
Nevertheless, the precedent established in Stuart's case was 
followed a few days later when another prisoner was retained 
in defiance of a writ.*^ The question was considered so impor- 
tant, however, that a subcommittee was appointed to "examine 
the question of the use and abuse of the writ of habeas corpus 
and report the same to this Committee with its opinion of the 
degree of respect which shall be accorded hy the Vigilance Com- 
mittee to that writ."'^ 'Dr. A. B. Stout, W. L. Bromley, and 
C. H. Brinlej^ were charged with this dut}^, and they soon sub- 
mitted a paper that was an interesting exposition of the Vigi- 
lante point of view.^^ They traced the origin of the writ of 
habeas corpus and acknowledged its great value when legiti- 
mately employed ; but they asserted it became a menace to society 
when it was used to promote the escape of the guilty, and they 
concluded that the Committee of Vigilance was justified in refus- 
ing obedience to writs which sought to remove prisoners before 
their cases had been investigated. They said : 

It is against the abuse of the Habeas Corpus that this people are called 
to raise their voice. And if the Vigilance Committee be the people, it is 
through the former that the latter may obtain justice and freedom from 
the ills which oppress and ruin our community. 

As this report was not presented until August 2, the chrono- 
logical narrative is somewhat dislocated by its introduction here. 
Yet it was so directly an outgrowth of the evasion in the case 
of Stuart that it should be closely related to that circumstance. 
The members of the Committee knew beyond peradventure that 

48Alta, 1851, July 9 %. 

49 See case of LeBras {Papers, 281). Writs were also evaded in the 
cases of Arentrue, and of W. H. Hays (ibid., 414, 441), and subterfuge was 
employed when Bluxome was summoned to produce his records in court 
(ibid., 731). 

50 Papers, 357. At the same time the General Committee laid on the 
table a motion giving the sergeant-at-arms and the chief of police dis- 
cretionary powers to admit civil officers to headquarters. 

51 Papers, 404-407. 

268 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

delivery of their prisoner to the courts would result in his escape 
from punishment, and that defiance of the writ was the only way 
in which they could retain him, but with unconscious incon- 
sistency they found it necessary to appoint a formal committee 
to consider the infraction of a minor constitutional privilege, 
while they contemplated without trepidation the far graver 
responsibility of inflicting the penalty of death ! 

That penalty for Stuart became more and more certain. 
Meetings of the General Committee were held on July 9 and 10, 
when reports were submitted touching the case, but no definite 
action was taken. About half past nine o'clock on the morning 
of Friday, July 11, San Francisco heard again the measured 
tapping on the bell of the Monumental Engine Company, and 
watched groups of well-known citizens hurrying, in open day, 
towards the headquarters of the Committee of Vigilance.^^ A 
large majority of the entire membership assembled at that sum- 
mons-, and listened for three hours to the reading of Stuart's 
confession and the evidence of witnesses. Then for some time 
they debated the punishment, while the prisoner in an adjoining 
room complained that the slow trial was ''damned tiresome," 
yawned indolently, and solaced himself with a quid of tobacco. 
The record of this long session is brevity itself. It reads :^^ 

Minutes of General Meeting July 11, 1851 

Mr. Selim Woodworth in Chair 
On Motion 

Besolved — That Evidence in case Stuart be read. 
Questions by Dr. Stout and Mr. Dows^* 

Has the prisoner performed his contract or not? No Unanimously — 
Has the prisoner been guilty of crimes rendering him liable to the pun- 
ishment of death — Yes — unanimously — 

52 Full accounts of the trial and execution were given in the Alta and 
the Herald, July 12 to 14. 

53 Papers, 263-2G4. 

54 Probably James Dows. John Dows was also a member, but his name 
appears nowhere in the minutes of the Committee. 

James Stuart, Outlaw . 269 

On Motion 

Eesolved That Prisoner Stuart be hung — unanimously carried — 
Resolved that a Clergyman be sent for to remain with Prisoner until 

he is hung — 

Eesolved That Prisoner be hung at 2 o'clock 

Eesolved That Ex Com make necessary arrangements 

Eesolved That no person be allowed to leave the room 

Eesolved That Prisoner receive his sentence 

Eesolved That Col Stevenson inform the populace that at 2 o'clock the 

prisoner Stuart will be hung — 

The Chair announced that the Clergyman was now in the room with prisoner 

On Motion 

Eesolved That a Committee be appointed to draft a form of the testi- 
mony to be published in the papers of tomorrow morning 

On Motion 

Eesolved That the Com take a recess of half an hour 

These minutes are in the handwriting of Secretary Bluxome, 
although he did not sign the page as usual. The allusion to the 
contract is the only direct reference ever made to the document 
which proposed to deliver Stuart to the authorities of Yuba 
County if he made a full confession, although at one time Stephen 
Payran favored sending him to Marysville in order to secure 
Berdue's release.^^ Nowhere is there a discussion of the force 
of the agreement, nor any explanation of the decision that its 
provisions had not been met satisfactorily. The promise of im- 
munity is not mentioned in the recollections of any of the Vigi- 
lantes ; Bancroft did not speak of it ; and no charge of treachery 
has been laid upon the Committee, even by the men who most 
opposed it. The minutes show that the matter of the contract 
was considered and decided by a unanimous vote. With the 
meager facts at our command it is futile to attempt to pass judg- 
ment on the point of honor, or to decide whether the failure to 
acknowledge the murder of Moore placed the murderer beyond 
the pale of clemency. 

The convict received his sentence composedly. He was then 
allowed an interval for the ministrations of the Reverend Mr. 

55 Papers, 224-225. 

270 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Mines, who found him a more hopeful penitent than was his 
predecessor, Jenkins. In his youth Stuart had been a communi- 
cant of the Church of England, and in the last moments of his 
life he responded to the appeals made to his better instincts, 
acknowledged the justice of his sentence, and received the abso- 
lution of the Church. ^^ 

During the two hours consumed in these preparations ''the 
four hundred members in the Committee Room sat like statues 
on their seats — not a word was uttered, not a sound was heard 
to break the solemn stillness. ' '^'^ It was an awesome death watch, 
and as the silent moments slipped away each man who had 
affirmed the verdict must have felt a growing sense of personal 
responsibility for the approaching execution. In accordance with 
the precedent set on a previous occasion. Colonel Stevenson 
was appointed to refer the sentence to the approval of the 
populace. The crowd outside was large, but patient, and heard 
with attention an account of the trial, a resume of the confession, 
and a report of the sentence. Then the question was put to the 
citizens : Would they sustain the action of the Committee ? And 
the vote of endorsement was ''almost unanimous. "^^ 

About three o'clock a stream of silent men began to emerge 
from the headquarters of the Committee. In the street they 
formed into platoons, ten abreast, and with Stuart in the center 
swung eastward toward the water front. The condemned man 
"marched as erect and with as firm a tread as any innocent man 
and no one could see in his actions any indications of agita- 
tion."^^ When the ranks reached Market Street wharf they 
parted to the right and left, and gave passage to the bodyguard, 
then closed again, locked arms, and ranged themselves into a 

56 See Mr. Mines' letter on the subject, Payers, 308-312. 

57 Herald, 1851, July 14 %. 
^^ Herald, 1851, July 14 %. 

59 James Dows (MS Statement, 4). Stuart's composure was especially 
noted in the Sunday Dispatch, 1851, July 13. 

James Stuart, Otitlaiv 271 

solid barrier.^*^ A derrick upon the pier had been selected for 
the place of execution, and there James Stuart, with unshrouded 
face and clasped hands, received the bitter punishment of his 
years of crime, while the multitude stood uncovered below him, 
hushed and motionless, and irresistibly moved by the fearless 
composure with which the outlaw met his doom. 

When the coroner was allowed to take possession of the body*^^ 
he observed the formalities of his office, and impaneled a jury 
which promptly found :*^^ "That the deceased came to his death 
by strangulation by hanging at the hands of a body of men 
styling themselves the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco." 

In its deliberate and open defiance of the law the execution 
of Stuart far exceeded the hasty action in the case of Jenkins. 
The constituted authorities were in duty bound to take public 
cognizance of such an occurrence, and the mayor, Charles J. 
Brenham, immediately published an open letter addressed to 
the citizens of San Francisco, in which he pointed out the insur- 
rectionary tendencies of the Committee of Vigilance and called 
upon the people to withdraw from its ranks and assist the 
authorities in supporting the laws.^^ 

60 Smiley said that while there was no regular military organization 
in the Committee of '51 as there was in the Committee of '56, military 
formation was adopted at the execution of Stuart. He remembered the 
company as about 380 men, and said he commanded the escorting squad, 
and stood within twenty feet of the scaffold (MS Statement, 5). A poor 
cut of the scene is reproduced in the Annals, 580. 

61 Herald, 1851, July 14 %. Smiley said that while Stuart was dying 
"Ned Gallagher came along, stopped at my platoon with arms locked and 
said, 'I demand permission to pass.' Middleton said, 'Who are you?' He 
said, 'By God, Middleton, you know I am a coroner!' 'By God,' was the 
ansAver, 'you don't get through till that fellow's a fit subject for your 
administration' (MS Statement, 4-5). There was a report that life was 
not absolutely extinct Avhen Stuart Avas cut doMii, although all efforts failed 
to revive him {Alta, 1851, July 13 %; Herald, 1851, July 14 %; Eyckman, 
MS Statement, 16). J. W. Palmer wrote: "The first man hung by the San 
Francisco Vigilance Committee was dead before he was swung up, and the 
second ... Avas alive after he was cut down" {The New and the Old, 1859, 
p. 73). 

62 Herald, 1851, July 14 %. 

63 See infra, p. 463. Sections of the act covering the suppression of 
riots followed the mayor's letter, in the Alta, July 13-15. 

272 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Thus Mayor Brenham discharged his duty, but Alexander 
Campbell, judge of the Court of Sessions, was made of sterner 
stuff. The assurances made in his letter to Sam Brannan had 
been no idle boast. In accordance with his determination to 
expedite justice he had impaneled a grand jury early in July, 
and that body immediately showed itself zealous in the perform- 
ance of its duties. Calling this jury into court on the morning 
of the twelfth. Judge Campbell brought to its attention the event 
of the previous day. He declared that the people must decide 
without delay whether or not they were willing to throw away 
all safeguards of society, to declare that law was inconsistent 
with liberty, and to place life and property at the mercy of a 
secret organization. He denounced the execution as an inexcus- 
able outrage, accused all who had abetted it of the crime of 
murder, and charged the jurymen that it was their sworn and 
solemn duty to bring the guilty to punishment.®* 

The Alt a of July 13 stated that after the charge had been 
delivered Mr. C. L. Ross asked to be excused from further ser- 
vice, as he had friends belonging to the Vigilance Committee, 
and his feelings would not allow him to bring in a bill against 
any of them. The application was refused. Judge Campbell 
stating that his own position was similar, but that they were 
all sworn to perform their duty and no private feelings could 
be allowed to interfere with their oaths. Eight other members 
of the jury were in a position infinitely more difficult than that 
of Mr. Ross, being themselves members of the Committee, and 
thus under the ''sworn and solemn duty" of bringing against 
themselves and their closest associates indictments for the crime 
of murder.®^ It is probable that Judge Campbell was unaware 
of the subtle humor of the situation, although two of the jury, 
J. D. Farwell and W. B. Peake, had signed the list of members 
published immediately after the execution of Jenkins. 

64 See infra, p. 464. 

65 See names of the jurymen, infra, p. 467. 

James Stuart, Outlaw 273 

In an editorial condemning Judge Campbell's attitude, the 
Herald pointed out the futility of any such attempt. It approved 
the hanging on the ground that the law, if properly executed, 
would have inflicted the same penalty long before, and con- 
cluded as follows :^^ 

What moral wrong, then, has been committed? The law has been vio- 
lated, it is answered. Ay, the law; but the Sabbath was made for man, 
and not man for the Sabbath, and the citizen is not made for the law, but 
the law for the citizen; and whenever the law becomes an empty name, 
has not the citizen the right to supply its deficiency? 

The California Courier of the same date expressed similar 
sentiments, blamed the inefficiency of the public officials for the 
prevalence of crime, and asserted that it would do little good 
for the coroner to investigate the deaths of criminals executed 
by the people while he neglected to take note of the victims of 
cold-blooded murder.^^ 

The grand jury took no steps to indict the five or six hundred 
members of the Committee, but it alluded to Stuart's execution 
in its final report, and regretfully acknowledged that the deed 
was "unlawful." At the same time it deplored the situation 
in the District Court that had moved the Vigilantes to action, and 
urged the officials of the city to remedy the causes of complaint.^^ 
Judge Parsons was so offended by the criticism of the District 
Court that he asked to have that portion of the report stricken 
from the records, but Judged Campbell overruled the motion.^^ 

Following the precedent set by Mayor Brenham the governor 
of the state issued a proclamation that dealt with the dangers 
that attended the organization of Committees of Vigilance in 
various places. His arguments were much the same as those 
used by Brenham and Campbell, but he suggested that it would 

60 Herald, 1851, July 14 %. 

67 See i7ifra, p. 465. 

68 See infra, p. 466. 

^^ Herald, 1851, August 9 %; H %• 

274 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

be quite legitimate to form protective associations if they would 
assist the officers of the law and the civil authorities in detecting 
and punishing crime. '^° This message was not written until ten 
days after the execution of Stuart, and in the meantime the 
Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco greatly enlarged its 
sphere of activity. Stuart's confession provided the long-sought 
clue to the gang of criminals that had infested central California. 
The community at large gave unmistakable evidence that the 
Committee could depend upon the support of popular approval. 
The Vigilantes, therefore, resolved to search for the outlaws, one 
by one, and deal with them according to their deserts. 

70 See infra, pp. 467-469. 



Stuart had named about twenty-five participants in the 
robberies he described. By order of the General Committee his 
confession, accompanied by the evidence in his case, was sent 
to the papers on the day of the execution.^ It was published 
immediately, with the omission of some names which at the 
time the Committee wished to conceal. It was republished a 
week later, and the suppressed portions inserted in full, that the 
community at large might assist in the apprehension of the 

The most important members of the gang were known to 
be Sam Whittaker, George Adams, Robert McKenzie, James 
Burns (usually called Jimmy from Town), Joseph Turner, 
Richard Osman, Jim Briggs, John Edwards, and John Morris 
Morgan. T. Belcher Kay, late port warden, was a valuable 
confederate on account of his official knowledge ; Kitchen, a boat- 
man, constantly served them when they were in need of trans- 
portation; and Big Brummy, Dab the horse thief , Billy Hughes, 
Long Charley, Ryan, and others were useful members of the 
company. The two policemen, Mclntire and McCarty, were 
depended on to protect them from arrest, and to help in making 

1 See Papers, 263 note 1. The following note prefaced the testimony 
in an extra edition of the Herald, July 11 : 

''Editor San Francisco Herald: 

The accompanying documents in the case of Stephens, alias Stuart, 
alias Campbell, alias English Jim, alias Carlisle, alias Mason, are 
handed you by order of the Committee of Vigilance for publication, 
your doing so will much oblige them and disabuse the public mind 
touching the affair. 


The Executive Committee, 
Per Order of Committee of Vigilance.'^ 

276 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

escapes, and a boarding house kept by Michael Hogan and his 
wife, Mary Ann, was a safe and favorite place of meeting. The 
popular term ''criminal organization" was scarcely applicable 
to the loosely knit band, but the Vigilantes realized that they 
had uncovered the trail of desperadoes who very seriously threat- 
ened the good order of society. 

The most effective work of the Committee began at this point. 
Orders were immediately issued for the arrest of many of those 
implicated; searching parties were sent into the interior, and 
several important captures were made with little difficulty. The 
first member of the gang to be taken was Jimmy from Town, a 
small, clean-shaven, Irish sailorman, an adept in the peculiar 
patter of the thieves' jargon, and a burglar of celebrity.^ Jimmy 
would steal anything on which he could lay his hands — a trunk 
of clothes, an office safe, the wallet of his own pal, the earnings 
of a disreputable woman. Wlieh his Irish temper was aroused 
he would quarrel with his confederates and spoil their plans, 
so that the more cautious sometimes refused to work with him. 
But he was useful in many raids, was especially expert in execut- 
ing daring jail deliveries, and had led in several of the breaks 
from the San Francisco station house. This light-fingered gen- 
tleman was caught in Marysville on July 16. Two days later 
representatives of the Committee secured George Adams, for 
whom they had been searching since the first days of their 

Adams, who rejoiced in the flattering alias of Jack Dandy, 
was of English birth and recently from Sydney. While the 
stigma of penal servitude was not proved against him, he was 
known in California as a seasoned criminal and a chronic truant 
from disciplinary lodgings. He was also a useful member of 
Stuart's organization, since his trade of engineer or millwright 

2 For a description of this notorious thief, see Papers, Index under 
** James Burns." His arrest was announced in the Herald, 1851, July 18 %. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 277 

enabled him to design tools and keys for expert operations.^ 
Being at this time a refugee from justice, he had hidden himself 
in a lonely spot on the banks of the American River, where he 
was arrested by civil officers on July 17, but discharged for 
lack of positive identification. Members of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee, more alert in their investigations, seized him before he 
could again conceal himself, and speedily transported him to 
the prisoners' room at San Francisco. 

Dab, the horse thief mentioned by Stuart, was delivered to 
the Committee by gentlemen from Marysville on July 17, but 
Sam Brannan, who had some hand in his capture, effected his 
release a few hours later for unexplained reasons, and to the 
great indignation of the entire association. The incident occurred 
on a night when there was evidence of unusual excitement and 
tension in the rooms of the Committee. Dab seems to have been 
at large in the outer apartment, but Van Bokkelen, the chief of 
police, had taken the precaution to forbid egress from head- 
quarters to all except those who were provided with special per- 
mits. Brannan, then merely a private member of the General 
Committee, attempted to remove Dab from the room in defiance 
of Van Bokkelen 's regulations, and finally succeeded in forcing 
him through the door when it was opened for some one who had 
the required pass. Before Brannan could follow the chief pulled 
him back, whereupon there ensued a general rush for the exit 
by others who had resented detention. Brannan struggled to 
release himself, threatening ''in not very polite language" to 
use his pistol unless liberated. He was finally allowed to go, 
the room was cleared, and order restored. 

Van Bokkelen reported the occurrence in an indignant note 
to the Executive Committee, and asked that it be decided whether 
or not his power was superior to that of a private member, and 

3 See Papers, Index under ' ' George Adams. ' ' His arrest was not«d in 
the Herald, 1851, July 21 %. 

278 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

whether or not frivolous pleas should be allowed to frustrate the 
ends of the Committee. Many voluntary associations would have 
been disrupted by such a quarrel. In this instance the whole 
question of authority was referred to the Executive Committee, 
and was quickly settled by the formulation of adequate by-laws, 
which were passed a few days later. At the same time the 
General Committee adopted resolutions which pledged all mem- 
bers to implicit obedience to the orders of the chief of police. 
The incident left the Committee of Vigilance more efficiently 
organized than ever before.^ It also gives a valuable hint of 
the crises that must have developed in a body of determined and 
self-confident men when disputes arose that involved freedom 
of personal action. Only the bond of a sincere and common 
purpose could have held them together in irksome subjection to 
such control. 

Brannan ceased to play a leading part in the Committee from 
this time. A week later he stated that he no longer had free 
access to headquarters, and was helpless to assist an acquaint- 
ance who was under suspicion.^ 

Determined to rid the country of the worst elements of 
Stuart's gang, the Committee continued the search for other 
fugitives, especially for Sam Whittaker and for Robert Mc- 
Kenzie. Both of these men were supposed to be in the vicinity 
of Sacramento or of Stockton. As early as July 10 a party 
was sent out to secure them, but the search was unavailing.® The 
sergeant-at-arms headed another posse, summoned assistants 
from the Committees of Stockton and Sonora, and scoured the 
country about Stockton, Chinese Diggings, Georgetown, James- 
town, Shaw's Flat, and Sonora.^ That expedition cost the Com- 
mittee nearly two hundred dollars. At its close the quest was 

4 See Papers, 227 note 14, 294-296, 340-343 ; also supra, p. 226. 

5 Alta, 1851, July 24 %. 
^Papers, 253, 265, Voucher no. 12. 
T Papers, 282, 303, Voucher no. 10. 

On the Trail of Stuart ^s Companions 279 

given over to the Committee of Sonora, since it was thought 
that the fugitives were hiding somewhere in the neighborhood 
of the southern mines. 

McKenzie was finally discovered in Sacramento, was arrested 
on July 29 at the instigation of J. G. Schultz, a member of the 
San Francisco Committee, and was safely incarcerated at head- 
quarters by the first of August;^ Whittaker, however, still 
baffled the Vigilante detectives. 

This man for whom they were searching through the high- 
ways and byways of California seems to have been the typical 
villain of melodrama. He was about thirty years of age, of 
medium height, courageous and manly in his bearing, exception- 
ally neat and particular in his habits of dress, and, according 
to Joseph Hetherington, the smartest thief in the whole group.^ 
Like Stuart, he had been transported from England in his early 
youth under a life sentence. He had been freed by a conditional 
pardon, and had come to California in 1849.^*^ 

After some vicissitudes he formed a partnership with an 
Australian named Teddy McCormac, and together they opened 
the Port Phillip House, which quickly became a rendezvous for 
thieves and ruffians. There the two men led a career of successful 
crime until they treacherously despoiled too intimate an acquaint- 
ance, one James Kelly, ''the fighting man," who reimbursed 
himself by selling out the Port Phillip House while the senior 
partner was in Monterey committing perjury in the interests of 
the robbers of the Custom House.^^ Wliittaker, thus dispossessed, 
removed to the Hogans' establishment during Mr. Hogan's 
absence in the mines. 

» Papers, 402 note 3. 

9 Papers, 243. Eyckman was much attracted by Whittaker 's manly per- 
sonality (MS Statement, 10). 
^0 Papers, 468-469. 
11 Papers, 236, 468, 470. 

280 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The new lodger was attractive and unfettered by scruples, 
his hostess was equally attractive, equally unscrupulous, and they 
quickly resigned themselves to an intimacy that became notorious. 
On Hogan's return from the country he forced the unwelcome 
guest to leave, but the sordid story had become a matter of 
common report, and Hetherington repeated it to the Executive 
Committee with a frankness that could not be misunderstood. It 
is not beyond the bounds of probability that the two leaders of 
the Sydney circle were rivals for the favor of the same mistress. 
Stuart had made no mention of Mrs. Hogan's fondness for 
Whittaker, but boasted that she wore a daguerreotype of himself ; 
while Whittaker accused Stuart of plotting to shoot him, either 
for money or because of jealousy.^^ 

The importance of Mrs. Hogan 's position was quickly realized 
by the Committee, and she and her husband were taken to head- 
quarters immediately after Stuart and Hetherington had first 
mentioned their names, but the woman cleverly evaded com- 
promising questions and betrayed none of the secrets of her 
lodging house. She denied any relationship with Whittaker 
beyond that of innkeeper and guest, and when her place was 
searched she foiled the Committee by secreting his likeness.^^ Mr. 
Hogan aired his grievances without reservation. While he con- 
tributed nothing of value to the records of the Committee, he 
must have derived much personal comfort from this opportunity 
to brand his supplanter as a roundshouldered person with a 
turned-up nose.^* 

After Stuart's confession was published Mrs. Hogan tried to 
avoid further embarrassment by leaving the country, and took 
passage on the Cameo for Sydney. The Committee sent on board 
the vessel and removed her to headquarters, then made further 
search to see if Whittaker had concealed himself on the same 

12 Papers, 242, 474, 475. i* Papers, 260. 

13 Papers, 257-259, 458. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 281 

boat.^^ Though the inspection was fruitless and the woman was 
quickly released, a watch was kept over her movements. When 
she presently went to Stockton, orders were sent there to have 
her followed in the hope of discovering Whittaker's hiding 
place/*^ The surveillance proved futile, however, and another 
searching party was sent to Sacramento to examine thoroughly 
the sloughs and creeks of the marshy river.^^ Quietly and un- 
observed Mrs. Hogan slipped southward from Stockton and 
made her way to San Diego, where, in fact, Whittaker expected 
to join her. He evidently took the coast route, for he was recog- 
nized on August 8 in Santa Barbara, where he was taken into 
custody by Sheriff V. W. Hearne, who at once embarked for San 
Francisco, intending to deliver him to the police of that city.^^ 
Once again a strange chance placed the Vigilance Committee 
in possession of an important captive. "While Hearne was look- 
ing for Sheriff Hays he entered the office of J. C. Palmer, to 
whom he mentioned his errand. J. C. L. Wadsworth, a member 
of the Committee, had a room in the same building. Palmer 
immediately told him that Whittaker was even then on board 
the steamer Ohio lying at Long Wharf. Wadsworth hurried to 
the water front, meeting J. F. Curtis on the way, and together 
they induced the captain to deliver the prisoner to them, and so 
transferred him without violence to the guard room of the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance. Hearne was reimbursed for the expense of 

15 Papers, 293, 298, 335. '^The famous Mre. Hogan ... was seized on 
Saturday on board a ship in the harbor . . . and removed to the Committee 
Eooms She is about thirty-five years of age, quite genteel in appear- 
ance, and one who might safely keep a crib without ever being suspected. 
Her carriage, the most elegant in the city, was waiting on Saturday morn- 
ing at the door of the Committee Eooms. For what cannot be said — cer- 
tainly not for the interesting female \\athin" {JELerald, 1851, July 21 %). 
Voucher no. 15 in the Papers, shows that the carriage was hired by the 
Committee at an expense of $16. 

^<i Papers, 363. 

■i-T Papers, 414-416. 

^8 Papers, 435-436; Herald, 1851, Aug. 12 %. 

282 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the trip from Santa Barbara, and he expressed no dissatisfaction 
with the final disposition of his captive.^^ 

Both Whittaker and McKenzie proved difficult to handle, 
maintaining for some time such a stubborn silence that we may 
leave them, as it were, handcuffed in their prison, while we follow 
other events of July and August. 

Much energy was consumed in pursuing other companions of 
Stuart. Thomas Quick and some of the lesser thieves were caught 
later, but the Committee was not always successful in securing 
the prisoners it desired. Thomas Belcher Kay, for instance, was 
followed in vain although he was in Sacramento when the early 
suspicions of his criminal activities-^ were confirmed by Stuart's 
confession. Officers were immediately dispatched to arrest him 
there. They actually had him in their hands on July 11, the day 
Stuart was hanged, but in view of the intense excitement pre- 
vailing at the time Kay persuaded them to allow him to remain 
at large, and although he then gave his word that he would 
accompany them voluntarily on the following day he promptly 
broke this parole and took advantage of his liberty to escape to 
San Francisco disguised as an old woman. ^^ With assumed 
frankness he wrote to the Committee, promised to surrender 
himself when desired, and requested that E. G. Austin should be 
retained as his counsel, but the office was indignantly refused 
by Mr. Austin, who more than once acted as legal adviser to the 

Mr. Kay, however, had some friends who were willing to 
appear in his behalf. One of them was William Thompson, Jr., 
who with commendable forethought sought to provide sanctuary 
for the fugitive in one of the crowded apartments of the county 
jail. On July 11, while Kay was still in Sacramento, Thompson 

19 Wadsworth, in MS Vigilance Committees — Miscellany, 25-26; Tapers, 
454, Voucher no. 40. 

20 See suyra, p. 238. 

^-^ Papers, 276-277; Berald, 1851, July 16 %; 17 %; Aug. 11 %. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 283 

made affidavit in San Francisco that the former port Avarden was 
even then unlawfully restrained of his liberty on a steamer in the 
Bay, by "a great number of persons who styled themselves the 
Vigilance Committee." In that way he procured a writ that 
required the sheriff of San Francisco to produce the said Belcher 
Kay in court, in order to prevent his execution at the hands of 
his captors. Kay 's counsel, Mr. McHenry , then placed his client 
in the sheriff's care, merely for the purpose of protecting him 
from the threatened violence of the Vigilance Committee. While 
he was in confinement the grand jury investigated his affairs, and 
in order to obtain all the information possible asked the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance for whatever evidence it had, and even visited 
headquarters in a body to discuss the matter with the Executive 
Committee.-- Kay's case was called in court on the same day, 
but as no complaint had been lodged against the prisoner he was 
discharged on the ground that the county could not afford the 
expense of his maintenance or the risk of damages for unlawful 
detention.-^ The grand jury immediately caused his rearrest,-^ 
but after ten days of imprisonment he was again released, ''the 
Grand Jury having represented to the court that they had no 
presentation to make against defendant." The Committee of 
Vigilance, learning of the order for his discharge, watched the 
jail and the outgoing Panama steamer in the hope of making an 
arrest, but Kay slipped through the guard and made good his 

He was fortunate in departing just when he did, for in a few 
days Whittaker and McKenzie gave further details of his crimes. 

22 Papers, 290, 298. ''The Grand Jury and the Vigilance Committee— - 
These two important bodies, the former of which is charged to bring in 
indictments for murder against the latter, had a free conference on Satur- 
day at the Committee Rooms. The purpose and proceedings have not 
transpired" (Herald, 1851, July 21 %). 

2s Herald, 1851, July 21, %; 22 %. 

2^ Herald, 1851, July 21 %. 

25 Herald, 1851, Aug. 2 %; Papers, 400. 

284 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

His real name, said Whittaker, was Gibson, and he was also 
known in England and Paris as Singing Billy and Count Peri. 
A checkered career had carried him from Europe to the penal 
colonies of Van Diemen's Land; thence he had escaped and 
made his way to California, and although he was so illiterate 
that he could scarcely read and write he became a leader in 
planning and executing many robberies, and was one of the prin- 
cipals in the attack on Jansen. His appointment to office illus- 
trated the ease with which past records could be ignored in 
the new community. We have evidence, also, that he continued 
his interesting occupations in other climes. After a sojourn in 
the southern seas he reappeared to history in South America, 
and the papers of 1855 reported that he was prominent in a band 
of ruffians who were committing outrages in Valparaiso.-^ 

While Kay was still in confinement the Committee instigated 
the grand jury to indict William Thompson, Jr., on the charge 
that he had perjured himself when he swore that his friend was 
under illegal restraint by the Vigilantes. The case was tried in 
August. Several witnesses described Kay 's arrest in Sacramento 
and the crowd on the San Francisco wharf that awaited the 
arrival of his steamer. That ' ' crowd ' ' may have been the guard 
of twenty appointed to act as a ''well armed" escort"^ and to 
protect the expected prisoner from possible violence. The evi- 
dence for the defense, however, characterized it as a large and 
threatening ' ' mob ' ' that gave vociferous applause to inflammatory 
speeches in which Sam Brannan promised that the former port 
warden should hang as ''high as Haman within twenty-four 

26 Papers, 472, 680 note 1; Alta, 1855, Aug. 7 %. Kay's career was 
mentioned in the San Francisco Call, 1893, Feb. 5, p. 16 ; H. C. Merwin, 
Life of Bret Harte, 1911, p. III. He had been appointed port warden by 
Governor McDougal, and became popular in spite of his close association 
with the Sydney men. He was acquainted with Dr. Eandall, of Monterey, 
and was suspected of complicity in the robbery of the Custom House. His 
name also appears in a lurid tale. Mysteries and Miseries of San Francisco 

27 Papers, 265. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 285 

hours." If we can accept these sworn statements at their face 
value, we must add another turbulent scene to the instances of 
disorder that accompanied some of the activities of the Committee 
of Vigilance. The trial resulted in Thompson's discharge; the 
jury "under the instruction of the court . . . that the indictment 
was faulty . . . returned a verdict of not guilty."-^ 

Messrs. Edwards, Osman, Briggs, ]\Iorgan, and Hughes, also 
evaded arrest by the Committee. Hughes had been tried and 
acquitted of the burglary of Robert's jewelry store early in 
June, 2^ but Whittaker finally said the charge was true and that 
the plunder had been entrusted to Morgan, w^ho with Edwards, 
Osman, and Briggs was traced to San Diego, where the party 
boarded a steamer for Panama. Unsuccessful efforts were made 
to arrest them at Mazatlan, and again, in October, when it 
was reported that they had returned to the vicinity of San 
Francisco. ^° 

The archives contain the names of eighty-six persons who 
were implicated by the statements of James Stuart and his con- 
federates. Only twenty-one of these were positively designated as 
ex-convicts, although a much larger number undoubtedly hailed 
from the penal colonies. About forty-five of the entire group 
can be classed as minor rascals, but the remaining forty-one seem 
to have achieved unenviable prominence in the circle of outlaws. 
Fifteen members of this dangerous gang were incarcerated, first 
and last, within the prisoners' room of the Committee of Vigi- 
lance, and their trials were prosecuted with vigor,^^ 

^^ Tapers, 300 note 3; Herald, 1851, July 24 %; Aug. 11 %. 

29 See supra, p. 238. 
_ 30 Papers, 228 note 16, 444-445, 500, 506, 679 note 1. In June the Com- 
mittee received a letter which described the escape of a supposed thief, and 
the recovery of a watch that he had dropped in his flight. Two months later 
Whittaker identified the fugitive as Old Jack Morgan, a typical example of 
the interweaving of independent clues (ibid., 47, 476). 

31 Compare Papers, Appendix E (list of prisoners). Appendix F (list of 
Stuart's confederates), and Index under ''Convicts." 

286 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

So far as Stuart's friends were concerned, his statement and 
that of Joseph Hetherington furnished a basis for examinations, 
and the accused, sometimes interrogated in private, sometimes 
confronted with old confederates, one by one admitted their guilt 
and told more or less of their past life and associations. T. J. L. 
Smiley said :^^ 

The usual course was first to examine these men in relation to their 
antecedents, to make particular inquiries in relation to their present life, 
and to investigate any complaints or charges made against them. These 
examinations were conducted by Gerrit L. Eyckman and Stephen Payran, 
who reported the result to the Executive Committee. If the Executive 
Committee desired any further evidence in relation to the matter, they 
would either investigate themselves, or refer the matter to a sub-com- 
mittee. As a general thing, before any definite action was taken, the 
prisoner was allowed the privilege of appearing before the Committee, 
and making whatever defence he might be able to in regard to any mis- 
deeds charged against him. On the report of the Executive Committee, it 
was referred to the Committee at large, and, on being endorsed by them, 
was carried into effect. The sentence of the Committee, as a general 
thing, was banishment, or voluntary transportation, amounting to the 
same thing. In some few instances, opportunities were given for them 
to wind up their business and close their affairs, before taking their de- 

The great strength of the Committee of '51 lay in the wonderful 
faculties possessed by two members of the Executive Committee, Gerrit 
Eyckman and Stephen Payran. The part allotted to them was obtaining 
information in regard to the antecedents and present life and surround- 
ings of the parties brought before them. They had a most wonderful 
faculty of impressing these parties with the fact that their only hope of 
safety lay in confession of crime. Gerrit Eyckman would talk to them 
like a father, and they would unbosom themselves fully, uncovering 
everything without any promise of reward, or special fear of punishment, 
except on the general principle that they had better make a clean breast 
of it. Nine times out of ten they confessed, and consented to transporta- 
tion, glad to get away, particularly when their requests to wind up their 
affairs were acceded to. With the wonderful power of these men to get 
so many to confess there was very little for the mass of the Committee 
to do. 

32 Smiley, MS Statement, 2-4. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 287 

It was not always so eas}^ as Smiley intimated to extort truth- 
ful confessions from those experts in perjury and evasion. A 
series of statements made by Adams, Jimmy from Town, Ains- 
worth, and others, shows how carefully the inquisitors conducted 
their investigations.^^ Adams, for instance, began a plausible 
tale of honest industry. In the midst of his story he was con- 
fronted with William Hays, who was under suspicion as a rascal 
on his own account, and who hoped to win immunity by in- 
forming on his old friends. Adams denied any acquaintance 
with him, but Hays recounted various experiences which he 
claimed they had shared in common, especially one incident of 
an Indian celebration. ' ' It was about the third of July. Wasn 't 
it?" he queried, and Adams incautiously corrected ''The 
Fourth ! ' ' The lying defense was broken down ; a whining con- 
fession followed, and George Adams may well have trembled for 
his life as he realized how many scores were accumulating against 
him upon the records of the Vigilantes. 

After the committeemen had played the roles of detectives, 
police, prosecutors, and juries, they were called upon to act as 
judges and pronounce sentences upon these convicted or self- 
confessed thieves. Here we mark another striking divergence 
of method between their course and that of other popular trib- 
unals which have been noticed in the earlier pages of this volume. 
The people's courts of the unorganized frontier and of the 
mining camps of 1848 and 1849 considered themselves the legiti- 
mate representatives of law in regions physically beyond the 
reach of legal institutions; those that persisted in California 
in 1850 and 1851 frankl}^ ignored or defied the constitutional 
authorities which they found powerless or unwilling to safe- 
guard society. The Committee of Vigilance, however, acknowl- 
edged the supremacy of the existing government, and was 

Papers, 314-327. 

288 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

pledged by its constitution to sustain the law when it was faith- 
fully and properly administered. By the middle of July crim- 
inal conditions in San Francisco had changed decidedly for the 
better since the early days of June when Jenkins was given his 
short shrift: the revised statutes were in effect, one or two of 
the local judges showed themselves incorruptible in executing 
justice, the grand jury was zealous in returning indictments, the 
popular interest was aroused, the courtrooms were thronged with 
critical spectators, and verdicts inclined towards a salutary se- 
verity. The primary object of the Committee was not the pun- 
ishment of criminals, but the protection of society. As soon as 
the courts gave promise of better efficiency the Committee turned 
to them as the most desirable source of discipline, and adopted 
the policy of delivering to the officers of the law those prisoners 
whose guilt was so clearly established that conviction might be 
expected, and whose crimes were not so heinous that the safety 
of the community demanded their execution. 

The most significant illustration of this policy was the action 
in the cases of Stuart 's confederates, Adams, Jimmy from Town, 
and Ainsworth, and in the case of George Arthur, a burglar 
who was under arrest at the same time. It had cost the Com- 
mittee heavily both in time and money to capture these men 
and to bring them to the point where they acknowledged their 
crimes. All were confessed thieves, but no proof of murder had 
been obtained, although murder was strongly suspected. On 
July 23 the Executive Committee advised that they should be 
tried in the courts, where the documents obtained by the Com- 
mittee might serve to convict at least one other prisoner then 
in the hands of the authorities.^'^ This recommendation was 
inunediately adopted in regard to Jimmy, Ainsworth, and Arthur, 
but Adams was remanded for further examination. At the 

^^ Papers, 338, 345. 

071 the Trail of Stuart's Companions 289 

next general meeting, July 28, action was again deferred. On 
August 3 he made a more satisfactory statement, which was sub- 
mitted to the General Committee without recommendation.^^ 
No minutes intimate that Adams' fate hung in the balance for 
several hours, but the San Francisco Herald stated that about 
ten o'clock on the morning of August 6 the ]\Ionumental bell 
tapped out the well-known call for a gathering of the General 
Committee, and that crowds collected about headquarters, greatly 
excited by a rumor that a sentence of death was under serious 
consideration. At last the prisoner was brought out, not on his 
way to the scaffold, but to the county jail, where he was handed 
over to the under sheriff, John Caperton, who acknowledged the 
delivery by a formal receipt. It is probable that Adams had a 
very narrow escape. The minutes show that the motion for his 
transfer to the authorities was made by "Mr. Malone," none 
other, we must think, than number 250, James R. Malony, com- 
monly called Rube, who was himself in bad repute as too close 
a friend of rowdies and ballot-box stuffers. John Arentrue, an- 
other colleague of Stuart, was also delivered to Sheriff Hays on 
the same day. 

The Committee pursued its policy of "vigilance" even after 
placing its prisoners under legal control. In the case of Jimmy 
from Town it was voted to detain Hays and other important 
witnesses, and to produce them in court at the proper time. A 
committee of six was appointed to attend to this duty, and 
various allusions point to the existence of similar committees 
charged with the supervision of other trials.^'' The presence in 
court of members of the society has been severely scored by some 
writers as an effort to overawe judge and juries. If such at- 
tempts were made, they are not reflected in the newspaper re- 
ports, or in the sentences pronounced, which in no case took 

35 Papers, 375, 410-413, 418, 419, 424, 426. 
S6 Papers, 339. 

290 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

advantage of the statute allowing the penalty of death to be 
imposed for grand larceny. It is, however, apparent that the 
trials of these men were conducted with unusual promptness. 
Within a week Jimmy from Town was sentenced to ten years' 
imprisonment, and some time later Adams received a twenty- 
year sentence. The charges against Arentrue were dismissed, 
owing to technical defects in the indictment, and the old trouble 
of the departure of necessary witnesses.^^ 

These notable rogues disappear at this point from the annals 
of the Committee of Vigilance, but the members of that body 
may have learned with interest that during the improvements 
on the county jail Sheriff Hays employed the facile Jimmy from 
Town in the mixing of mortar, while Adams delved some twenty- 
seven feet under ground, and their old friend, Watkins, handled 
a plane. ^^ Unfortunately, honest toil did not reform their wan- 
dering impulses. In January of the next year Jimmy escaped 
again, and was again captured. In May he and Adams and 
Watkins attempted another sortie, but were detected, and were 
most unkindly flogged, Adams suffering an extra ten lashes in 
compliment to his leadership.^^ Jimmy was later transferred 
to San Quentin, where the new state prison proved as frail a 
barrier as had his other jails. In October, 1854, he led five 
friends in a successful dash for liberty,*^ and thereafter vanished 
from the attention of the public. 

Schenck said that the Committee had been informed that the 
authorities had evidence to convict some, of the prisoners of 
murder,^^ and it may be inferred that their surrender was 
prompted by the hope of severe and legal punishment. It is 

37 See the Court reports in Herald, 1851, July 29; Aug. 7; 8; 14; 26-30; 
Sept. 3; 23. ' 

^s Herald, 1851, Sept. 19 %. 

^^ Herald, 1852, Jan. 21 %; May 21 %. 

40 Herald, 1854, Oct. 26 %. 

41 Schenck, MS Statement, 43. 

On the Trail of Stimrt's Companions 291 

noteworthy that the Vigilantes did not attempt to recover the 
criminals when milder sentences were imposed. Nevertheless, 
it is not unlikely that the good fortune of Adams and Jimmy 
from Town sealed the fate of two more dangerous felons. 

The records of Whittaker and McKenzie had been bared with 
pitiless detail by Stuart, Joseph Hetherington, and other in- 
formers. McKenzie, a brutal, coarse-fibered man, tried to save 
himself by sullen silence, or by prevarication, but finally made 
a confession that fully established his guilt as a member of 
Stuart's gang.*^ 

Whittaker also attempted to conceal the truth, but the accu- 
sations against him were too explicit. In the end he spoke freely 
of his past offenses. The circumstances attending his confession 
make it in some respects the most remarkable of all the docu- 
ments preserved in the files of the Committee. Stuart may have 
dictated his statement in the hope of securing immunity by 
frankness, but Whittaker, with Stuart 's fate in mind, could have 
cherished no vision of reprieve at the expense of others. 
Ryckman related a touching interview when kind words broke 
down the prisoner's reticence, and he offered to unburden his 
heavy conscience in the face of the warning that even honesty 
would not save him from the penalty of his sins.*^ Once started, 
he confessed crime after crime with astonishing fluency. While 
Stuart's narrative was a plain recital of events, Whittaker 's was 
interspersed with reflections on the men and the occurrences 
that he described.** Like many other criminals he blamed 
society for his downfall : he gave instances of injustice to show 
that a thief had a better chance than an honest man ; he sneered 

42 Tapers, 463-467, 506. A brief and unimportant addendum, missing 
from the files, was printed in the Alta, 1851, August 27 %. 

43 Eyckman, MS Statement, 10-12. He stated that Payran had been 
drinking, and could not conduct the examination with his usual skill. Ban- 
croft gave a somewhat garbled version of the episode in Popular Tribunals, 
I, 342-343. 

44 Papers, 468-488. 

292 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

at his own service on a jury whicli sentenced a prisoner to a 
term of imprisonment for the theft of a pistol, while greater 
offenders, skilfully defended, went scot-free f^ he showed how his 
successful efforts to corrupt officials caused him to despise the 
authorities he defied ; and he boasted of his influence as a poli- 
tician, and of the dozen ex-convicts whom he led to the polls 
when called upon to assist in the election of Malachi Fallon, 
marshal of the city.*^ 

He characterized his companions with critical appraisement : 
Kay was ignorant, and a dand}^; others were bungling; the con- 
victs from Van Diemen's Land were far worse than those from 
Sydney ;*^ such a one was a convict without doubt, another might 
be an incendiary but the ' ' report was rumor ' ' f^ John Darke 
was a thief ' ' on his own hook ' ' ; Dick Smith, friend of convicts 
and of police, could be depended upon to provide straw bail.*^ 
He described moral and physical qualities with equal facility, 
and little touches of personality bring these unknown rogues 
before our eyes with startling realism. The acme of his con- 
tempt he reserved for the unkempt, unclean, and physically re- 
pulsive. "Kitchen is a rough boatman-looking fellow; dirty, 
very dirty." ''George" was roundshouldered, a dirty-looking 
fellow, a thief; one receiver of stolen goods at Sacramento was 
stigmatized as a "dirty looking little pock-marked Jew."®*^ 

He did not hesitate to acknowledge his relations with Mrs. 
Hogan, told of lavish presents he had made her, and of her de- 
termination never to go back to her husband. He even repeated 
a rumor that she had been transported for crime, but admitted 
at last:^^ "To do her justice, I must say that she done all in 
her power to break up my associations, and to lead a different 

^5 Papers, 469. ^^ Papers, 482, 483. 

^Q Papers, 481. 50 Papers, 480-482. 

*7 Papers, 478. 5i Papers, 473-476, 484. 

^8 Papers, 477, 480. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 293 

Mary Hogan was then recalled to headquarters, and the 
confession was read to her. Compelled by the man's frank 
avowals, she admitted the intimacy that had bound them to- 
gether, but indignantly repudiated the insinuation that her af- 
fections had been won by the value of his gifts. She insisted 
that she had handled his money as might a wife, returning to 
him on various occasions such sums as he needed.^^ We read 
that during her ordeal the "prisoner Whittaker was brought in 
and confronted with Mrs. Hogan." So far as we may know, 
they never met again. Sam Whittaker was held to meet the 
punishment of his misdeeds, and Mrs. Hogan was allowed to go 
at large subject to the order of the Committee.^^ In closing her 
stor}^ it is perhaps fair to repeat the judgment of one of her 
own sisterhood who characterized Mrs. Hogan as "only guilty 
of loving a bad man."^* 

The examinations did not prove actual murder against either 
Whittaker or McKenzie, but the Executive Committee reported 
that both men were self-confessed robbers who did not hesitate 
at any violence, that they were a menace to the community, 
and that it would be unsafe to hand them over to the authori- 
ties.^^ It therefore recommended that they should suffer death 
at the hands of the Committee of Vigilance. These reports 
are in Stephen Payran's handwriting, and both contain a can- 
celed paragraph which provided that execution should take place 
at one o'clock on the afternoon of August 18. In spite of the 
fact that there are no minutes and no annotations to prove that 
these recommendations were accepted, there is little doubt that 

52 Papers, 488-490; Herald, 1851, Aug. 18 %. 
5^ Papers, 501. 

54 Eeport of a conversation with ' ' Harriet, ' ' probably Harriet Lang- 
meade, in a brief paragraph in the Herald, 1851, August 4 %. 

55 Papers, 462, 467. Smiley said : ' ' The sentences of death in the cases 
of Whitaker and McKenzie were passed by the Committee at large, upon 
the cases coming before them" (MS Statement, 4). 

294 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

they were, although with a postponement of the execution for 
fortj^-eight hours. On the nineteenth there are two unsigned 
orders, one in Payran's handwriting instructing the chief of 
police to remove the prisoners to a place of greater security, and 
another written by Bluxome, directing that the execution should 
take place on a vessel in the harbor in view of the crowds on 

The plans of the Committee were not destined to be carried 
out, as the removal of the prisoners was not accomplished in 
time to frustrate a delivery executed under the personal super- 
vision of the governor of the state. His proclamation of July 21 
had concluded with the words: ''It is my sworn duty to see 
that the laws are executed, and I feel assured that all good 
citizens will cordially cooperate with me in its discharge. ' ' For 
nearly a month Governor McDougal had rested content with 
this inner assurance of restored tranquility, and then his con- 
fidence in the good citizens of San Francisco was rudely shat- 
tered. On August 18 the papers published the full text of 
the examinations in the case of Whittaker and McKenzie. On 
August 19 the governor learned that the Committee of Vigilance 
intended to hang both prisoners on the following day. He at 
once hastened to San Francisco and about midnight he ob- 
tained confirmation of the rumor from two members (or former 
members) of the Committee whose names he never divulged. 
Summoning Mayor Brenham to his assistance, he searched the 

56 Papers, 522, 523, 536. The following undated fragment may refer 
to some plan connected with the execution. The writing does not identify 
the author, and it was reserved for publication in this volume as an illus- 
tration of the problems that arose in arranging a portion of the archives: 
' ' The prisoners will be moved this night with guard of ten — 
At 8 o 'clock a person will be sent to room for special detail of 
25 who will come to such spot as may be designated — 

When Comt. meets — report & let the bells toll — then form & pro- 
ceed under direction of me without previous statement & he who leads 
will wave his handkf — when the prisoners will run — ' ' Bancroft 
interpreted the concluding phrase as referring to the moment when the 
prisoners should be run up to the yard arm (Popular Tribunals, I, 359). 

On the Tradl of Stuart's Companions 295 

city for a judge who could issue a warrant for immediate seizure. 
Having produced this from Judge Myron Norton, he aroused 
the sheriff and directed him to serve it without delay.^^ 

Colonel Hays had no relish for the commission. As has been 
said, he sustained the most cordial relations with the volunteer 
police headquarters on Battery Street; he had invited members 
of the Committee to visit his own jail ; they had commended his 
efforts to complete the building, and had promised substantial 
financial assistance towards defraying the expenses he had as- 
sumed. More than once they had delivered important prisoners 
into his keeping, and more than once they had frustrated his 
efforts to take from them men whom they were unwilling to 
relinquish. At first he thought it was not his duty, "and rather 
roughly declined,"^' but the obligation could not well be evaded, 
and he reluctantly called his deputy, John Caperton, and accom- 
panied the governor and the mayor to the rooms of the Com- 

Here there had been all through the night an atmosphere of 
suppressed excitement ; members came and went, intent upon the 
stern work of the morrow, sometimes so absorbed and hurried 
that they passed the guard without the customary countersign. 
Payran, who had been indisposed during the day,^^ had retired 
for sleep after a final consultation with Van Bokkelen. The 
latter had nearly completed arrangements for transferring the 
condemned to the vessel selected as the place of execution and 
had stepped outside for a moment, when Hays and Caperton, 
taking advantage of their knowledge of the rooms and of the 
customs of admission, mounted the stairs and pushed past the 
guard at the door. Caperton rushed directly to the prisoner's 
room, crying: "Whittaker and McKenzie, I am an officer; I 

57 The affidavit and the warrant are printed infra, pp. 469-470. 
'^& Papers, 530. 
50 Papers, 520. 

296 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

come to save you ! ' ' The three locked arms and dashed back to 
the exit, where Hays held open the door in spite of all that the 
surprised guard could do to dislodge him. During this dramatic 
rescue there was great confusion, but no concerted resistance, 
and no resort to violence or firearms on either side. The whole 
thing occurred so quickly that Payran was not awakened until 
the scuffle was over. When Van Bokkelen returned he found 
his charges in the hands of the officers. He made such a feeble 
effort to regain them that he was severely censured by the 
Committee for neglect of duty, and temporarily relieved of his 
office as chief of the Vigilance police. 

The General Committee met at eight o'clock the next morning 
to discuss the circumstances of the rescue. ^° Some of the mem- 
bers favored immediate retaliation. Payran 's habitual deliber- 
ation gave way before his indignation, and in a fiery resolution 
he called upon the Committee to decide whether it should rouse 
the city to action and show who had the supremacy, or should 
acknowledge defeat by releasing all prisoners still in custody. 
"Why detain them here?" he asked. "Why expend our time 
and money on them, when we, the People, are afraid of the puny 
and insignificant powers whom we have placed in office ? ' ' His 
resolution was laid on the table, as was another that proposed 
an attempt at immediate recapture. Five men were appointed 
to investigate the events of the night; the chief of police was 
suspended from duty pending their report, and the meeting ad- 
journed until the afternoon. At four o'clock the subcommittee 
was ready with its report, which was introduced by the following 
preamble : 

The Committee having invited his Excellency the Governor of the 
State, his Honor the Mayor, Sheriff Hays, and Deputy Sheriff Caperton 
to meet them in the Executive Chambers, those gentlemen cordially as- 
sented, and being informed that the object of the Committee was to 

Papers, 523-526. 

On the Trail of Stuart ^s Compamons 297 

ascertain if their action in seizing and rescuing the prisoners was aided 
and abetted by any members of the Vigilance Committee they have pro- 
vided the Committee with the statements as follows severally. ' '^i 

This investigation illustrated more vividly than any other 
incident in the history of the Vigilance Committee the strange 
position in which it stood with the general public and with the 
constitutional representatives of the people. At midnight the 
Committee held two men as prisoners under sentence of death ; 
before morning these men were seized in a raid conducted by 
the three highest officers of the state, city, and county ; and a few 
hours later all concerned (except the prisoners) sat around a 
council table in the very headquarters of the Vigilantes and 
discussed the event with the decorum befitting a court of law ! 

The committee of investigation found no evidence of cor- 
ruption or of internal connivance in the escape,^- but it blamed 
the chief of police for want of necessary caution and energy, 
and censured those members ''who were so derelict in duty as 
to inform the Governor of the intended action of the Committee, 
which rendered it imperative upon him to adopt the course he 
did. ' ' The report was accepted and Van Bokkelen was restored 
to his former position. It was resolved that the sentences of exe- 
cution should be carried out as soon as Whittaker and McKenzie 
could be recaptured, and that in future any member guilty of 
divulging transactions of the Committee should be ignominiously 

On the very day after the rescue Hays allowed Ryckman to 
interview the prisoners. ''Mr. Ryckman," said Whittaker, "I 

31 Papers, 528. The evidence follows. It contains many allusions show- 
ing the arrangements of headquarters, and the customs of the Committee. 
The account in Popular Tribunals, I, 353-356, included other details sup- 
plied by the members. 

62 Payran always attributed the rescue to treachery on the part of the 
guards (Carpenter's letter in Oakland Transcript, 1874, March 29, p. 1). 

&5 Papers, 524-525. 

298 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

hope you are not sorry that we made our escape. '^ '^You have 
not made your escape/' was the inexorable reply. ''You have 
been convicted, and you will be executed beyond a shadow of 
doubt. There is no power on earth that can save you."^* Gov- 
ernor McDougal, however, was somewhat complacent over his 
easy victory, and he took occasion to issue another proclamation, 
which is reproduced upon the opposite page. This communi- 
cation appeared in the city papers, even in those most friendly 
to the Committee, although its force was somewhat impaired by 
the close juxtaposition of the following: 

A Card 

San Francisco, August 20, 1851. 
We, the undersigned, do hereby aver, that the present Governor, Mc- 
Dougal, asked to be introduced to the Executive Committee of the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance which was allowed, and an hour fixed. The Governor, 
upon being introduced, stated that he approved the acts of the Committee, 
and that much good had taken place. 65 He hoped that they would go on, 
and endeavor to act in concert with the authorities, and in case any 
Judge should be guilty of mal-administration, to hang him, and he would 
appoint others, &c. 


George J. Oakes, 
Isaac Bluxome, Jr., 
S. Payran. 

64 Eyckman, MS Statement, 13. 

65 ''The Governor of the State, hearing of the condition of affairs [after 
the execution of Jenkins], issued, as was proper for him to do, a proclama- 
tion, warning all good citizens to desist from unlawful acts and from unlaw- 
ful combinations. But upon examination of affairs, he was satisfied the 
work proposed by the Committee would really be beneficial to the public 
interests, and that an active opposition would be harmful instead of useful, 
and decidedly agreed with the Executive that their work should go on, and 
that he would interpose no active opposition on the part of the state, so long 
as the operations of the Committee were confined to the sphere indicated, 
unless something then not foreseen should compel him to take a different 
position, of which he would give them due notice. Accordingly, throughout 
the existence or active operations of that Committee, the Governor properly 
maintained his attitude of nominal opposition, and the dignity of the state, 
but found no occasion to take any active measures against us" (Coleman, 
MS Statement, 23-24). 




WIIEREA($. aa armed aad organized iiody of the eitizeaB 9f Sao Fraaoiseo Cpaat^-. 

ha», IB defiance ef the Constitution and lAwg of tJbi^ Stste, aasam^d l» exercise tlie p«wen of tlie Courts of Criiaioal 
Jurisdiction, and to p:i8» and carrj' into effect extra-juiUcial xentenees of death— «sd wnereas a gpirit of opposition to the 

Officers of the Lan, while engaged Ip thb eneculiun of their duty, has been openlj- and-pubHely raatufested ; «a|filiere if 
reason to lirliete (hat further attem^ may be made to interfere with the regolar admlaistratioB of jostiee in B«ia Cc 
and e«peeinliy to talse from the ci^ody ol'^be Sheriff certain Prisoners now cooSned in the Gaol of asid Coagjjj^. 

a, do he 

Notv therefore. I, JOHN McD0U04L, Governor of (he State of California, do herebr 

call upon till good citizcn^i of said County to unite for the purpose of Musjiainiog public Ian and tranquiUity, to aid the pabBc 
Bcrs in the diBch;iri;r of their duty, and by ail lawful m<tMs to diseouijtenance aay and every attempt which may be made 

officers i 

t« suhHtKdte the despotic lontrol of a self-runstituted a.s.soeiation onknown and acting in defiance of the laws, in the place 
of the rej;nlarly or^aniAed sinvemnient of the County. And I herebj- eall upon all public officers to be active, vigilant, and 
faithful ill the performance of their trusts, and to resist to th^ atmost of their power, all efforts which may be made to 
subvert the laws and trample on the Constitution. 

And I hereby nnrn (hose who are disposed to resist the legal authorities, (hat (hey can- 

Bot do so, without involvlns the community of which they are aiembers i a all the horrors of Civil War, subjecting life, 
liberty and property to the most fearful sacrifices. 

The Government is determined, at all hazard^., to sHstaiB the Coastitation and Laws. 

public peace can only he secured, and public liberty can only be maistaioed,. h^ a strict adherence to that feeling of sobor- 
d^ation to tlie law, and respect for its ministers, which have heretofore ebaracterized the American People. 

The attention of all citizens is requested |o Sections 99 to 50, of "An Act to regu- 
late proceedings in Criminal cases." 

It is earnestly hoped,that no necessity will arise eailing for the execntion of those 

provisiOB.s, and that the g<K>d sen.* and calm reflection of all good citizens will induee them to refrain from committing ai^ 
aots calcnkted to destroy the peace and order of the eommusitv', and to, bring the authorities into coodiet with any portio* 
of the People. 


Gitvemor of Califoruui. 
Sau Fraueisco, August IstO/A. 1851. 

Proclamation by Governor John McDougal relative to the Committee of Vigilance, 
August 20, 1851. From the Bancroft Library. 

On the Trcdl of Stuart's Companions 299 

The records of the Committee contain but one more paper 
bearing on this case — the following curt order, to which is ap- 
pended an equally curt report :^^ 

Capt. Cartwright: 

You are hereby authorized to detail a guard such as you think proper, 
and arrest two Prisoners to-wit — Sam Whittaker & E. Mackensie and 
bring them, into custody of the Committee of Vigilence. 
Done by order of Executive Committee 
August 22, A D 1851. 

[Signed] James B Huie 
Attest S. Patran Chairman. 


Executive Com® of Vigilance Com® 

S. Francisco Aug. 24./51 
Agreeably to your orders above I detailed (30) Thirty men who pro- 
ceeded in Three Divisons under the respective orders of Col G. W. White, 
Capt Calhoun & Mr Oscar Smith & in the short spaces of 5 minutes from 
the first charge the Prisoners above named were on their way to your 

Head Quarters — 


[Signed] J W Cartwright 

The story of that Sunday is worth telling in greater fullness. 
The reminiscences of the actors show that they plotted cunningly 
to outwit the triumphant authorities.^^ In order to avoid any 
personal conflict with Jack Hays, George Schenck saw to it that 
the sheriff was invited to attend a bullfight at the Mission Do- 
lores. Then, in advance of the proposed raid, Isaac Bluxome 
inspected the jail, ostensibly to see Berdue, who was lodged there 
awaiting a formal release from the sentence imposed after his 
conviction as the assailant of Jansen. The secretarj^'s real 
errand was to discover whether a stand of muskets kept in the 

66 Papers, 549. By an error in proof-reading, Huie 's title as Chairman 
was omitted from the printed document. There are no minutes to explain 
why Payran was serving as secretary, but another order of the same date 
was signed by E. Gorham, as president pro tem (ibid., 541). 

67 Details of the raid in the MS Statement of Ryckman, 13 ; Bluxome, 
13-15; Schenck, 40-42; Farwell, 10; confirmed by the dailv papers of 
August 25, and by E«v. Albert Williams, PioneeY Pastorate, 1879, pp. 117- 
118. See also Popular Tribunals, I, 359-365. 

300 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

building was ready for emergency use. He accomplished this 
purpose by exhibiting his skill in the manual of arms to the old 
soldier, William Lambert, who acted as keeper, for he made 
excuses to pick up one gun after another during the drill, and 
thus ascertained that none was loaded. 

When Sunday came. Captain Cartwright stationed parties 
of his guard of thirty near the front and rear entrances of the 
jail. The unsuspecting jailers even allowed a few of them to 
enter the building and attend a religious service which was being 
held in the unroofed court. A conspirator perched on Telegraph 
Hill commanded a view of the courtyard and watched for the 
signal that would indicate the best moment for attack. The 
Reverend Albert Williams exhorted his unpromising flock, while 
Captain Lambert lounged on guard, Caperton discussed his Sun- 
day dinner, and Sheriff Hays enjoyed his holiday sports. Sud- 
denly at half past two as the meeting drew to its close a signal 
was waved from within, transmitted by the observer on the hill, 
and answered from without. In a twinkling the Vigilantes inside 
pinioned Lambert and the guards, those without forced in the 
doors, seized Whittaker and McKenzie, carried them bodily to 
a waiting carriage, thrust them on to the seat, and held them 
down with cocked pistols at their heads. The driver lashed his 
horses to a gallop and dashed up Broadway to Stockton, along 
Stockton to Washington, thence through Dupont, Sacramento, 
Montgomery, and California streets, to the rooms of the Com- 
mittee on Battery street. The Monumental bell began to tap 
out the alarm, and the streets filled with crowds that raced after 
the flying carriage and quickly packed the neighborhood around 
headquarters. On the box of that careening coach sat James 
R. Duff, who lived to become one of the last survivors of the 
Committee of 1851.^^ Sixty-four years later he seemed to recall 

68 Mr. Duff 's recollections of the day were printed in the San Francisco 
Chronicle, 1915, Oct. 3, Magazine p. 6. I had the pleasure of talking with 
him a few weeks later. 

On the Trail of Stuart's Companions 301 

every event of the day with photographic distinctness. It was 
not only its reckless daring that stamped the mad hour indelibly 
upon his memory. The shouting mob had caught in its swirl a 
frightened girl, just from the East, who recognized on the car- 
riage her own brother-in-law, James T. Ryan, and marked the 
man beside him, and years later the gray-haired Vigilante de- 
picted for me the fiercest episode of '51 as a somber background 
for the moment when he first attracted the attention of the 
woman who soon after became his wife. 

But vengeance, not romance, possessed the minds of the com- 
mitteemen on that Sunday afternoon when they rushed their 
captives back to their headquarters. The chambers had two 
second-story doorways on Battery Street, with projecting beams 
for the hoisting of freight. Seventeen minutes after the storming 
of the jail those doors were thrown open, ropes were reeved 
through the overhead blocks, and the two ends taken inside the 
room. In another instant the prisoners were pushed forward, 
with nooses around their necks, and almost at the same moment 
the ropes were tightened and the struggling wretches were 
launched into eternity.^^ While the bodies were still hanging 
Sam Brannan addressed the crowd from the open doorway, in- 
forming them that the prisoners had confessed their guilt, had 

69 Illustration, Annals, 562. An English traveler described the appalling 
silence and resolute mien with which the waiting thousands watched the 
sinister preparations. ''They did not seem like men," he said, ''but like 
judges sent by Osiris from the nether world, so stern, and implacable was 
their expression" (Jeremiah Lynch, A Senator of the Fifties, 101). An- 
other writer said that brutal levity characterized the execution, and so 
shocked public sentiment that the popular approval of the Committee was 
greatly weakened, and contributions were withdrawn {Pictures of Pioneer 
Times, by William Grey [a pseudonym of W. F. White], 1881, p. 108). 
Contemporary accounts showed that McKenzie was in a pitiable state of 
panic, while Whittaker was calm and manly (see also R. M. Devens, Our 
First Century, 1880, p. 555). Ryckman said that Whittaker was "brave as 
Caesar, ' ' and won his admiration so that he regretted the necessity for the 
execution. In the brief interval within headquarters the doomed man told 
Eyckman of a plot against his life, and the warning enabled the Vigilante 
to foil the would-be assassins (Ryckman, MS Statement, 14-15; Popular 
Tribunals, I, 364^365). 

302 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

acknowledged that they deserved death, and had affirmed that 
they would not have pursued the course which ended at the 
gallows had it not been for the weakness and corruption of some 
of the authorities. He stated that the members of the Committee 
were fully sensible of the solemnity of the occasion and of the 
fearful responsibility which the first law of nature, self-preser- 
vation, imposed upon them, but that they could not have acted 
other than they had without holding out a direct premium to 
crime. He trusted that the Committee would be supported by 
the citizens when it did right, and would receive their frowns 
when it did wrong. No innocent man need fear — it was no 
gratification to the Committee to be compelled to take the life 
of a fellow-being, and in no case would that be done unless the 
proof of guilt was beyond cavil. 

The coroner held an inquest on the same day and summoned 
as witnesses George Melius, W. H. Jones, Benjamin Reynolds, 
L. J. Bayles, J. B. Huie, and S. E. Woodworth, all members of 
the Committee. Their answers were guarded but not evasive, 
and the jury returned the following verdict -P 

In accordance with the foregoing testimony, the jury, after deliberate 
consideration, have come to the conclusion and accordingly render their 
verdict that Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie came to their death 
by being hanged by the neck, thereby producing strangulation, by the act 
of a body of citizens styling themselves the "Vigilance Committee of San 
Francisco," on the afternoon of Sunday, August 24th, instant, at about 
three o 'clock, in front of the Vigilance Committee Rooms, on Battery Street, 
near California Street, from the second story thereof. 

Although there was some severe censure of the execution^^ 
most of the newspapers approved it, and blamed the courts 
for permitting the miscarriage of justice that evoked such inter- 
ference on the part of private citizens. These strictures were 

70 Herald, 1851, Aug. 25 %. 

71 The Pacific, a religious paper friendly to the Committee, said that the 
act had forfeited the confidence of the community (Pacific, 1851, Sept. 5, %). 

071 the Trail of Stuart's Companions 303 

so severe that they moved Judge H. S. Brown, of the Court of 
Sessions, to resign his position on the ground that the attitude 
of the press was equivalent to an unjust impeachment of every 
judge in the San Francisco courts/^ In noting his resignation 
the Herald remarked that no one had particularly considered 
Judge Brown either for praise or censure, but it commended 
his example to Judges Bennett and Parsons ; as for Judge Camp- 
bell, he had so won the confidence of the community that such 
a step on his part would only result in prompt re-election. 

Judge Campbell allowed the matter to pass with a brief 
comment made to the grand jury on the day after the lynching. 
He said that it was not necessary for him to remark at length 
upon it ; his views were still the same as they were when he had 
addressed the previous grand jury on the occasion of Stuart's 
execution/^ By a curious coincidence, the same Monday found 
Campbell engaged in hearing evidence presented by members 
of the Committee to the effect that Stuart had assumed the guilt 
of the attack, on Jansen, and had completely exonerated Windred 
and Berdue/* The latter was in court, eager to express his 
gratitude to the association that had already saved him from 
death and was then engaged in clearing him of the charge of 
robbery. When his discharge was ordered, Judge Campbell 
must have acknowledged, at least in secret, that the ends of 
justice had been served by the very men whom he had officially 
branded as murderers deserving of the severest punishment. 

Learning that Berdue was penniless, the court suggested that 
a subscription should be raised for his benefit. Mr. Jansen offered 
to return the money taken from the prisoner at the time of his 
capture in February, and the members of the Committee ar- 
ranged to collect additional funds. On September 16 Berdue 

"^^ Herald, 1851, Aug. 26 %. The resignation is reprinted in Popular 
TribunaU, 1, 330. 

"^^ Herald, 1851, Aug. 26 %. 
74 Herald, 1851, Aug. 26 %. 

304 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

signed an acknowledgment of $302, given him by Isaac Bluxome, 
Jr., in the name of the CommitteeJ^ A few days later he pub- 
lished in the papers the following card -J^ 

I have kindly to thank those gentlemen for what they have done for 
me; for certainly, through their vigilance and the Icind providence of 
Almighty God, they succeeded in capturing the criminal for whom I have 
suffered so much. 

1^ Papers, 640. 

76 California Courier, 1851, Sept. 24 %. The Alta, Oct. 11 ^2> stated 
that Berdue had lost his donation in an unfortunate mining venture, and his 
friends were trying to raise more. Two years later he unsuccessfully peti- 
tioned the legislature for an indemnity to the amount of $4000 for injuries 
suffered during his imprisonment and trial (California Senate, Journal, 
1853, Appendix, Doe. 37). 


The dealings of the Committee of Vigilance with Stuart's 
confederates have been related in a consecutive story in order 
to present a definite sequence of cause and effect which is lack- 
ing in the chronological arrangement of the printed documents. 

While that story is still clearly in mind it may be interesting 
to linger over the records of this curious court, especially over 
the evidence that came from the lips of the prisoners themselves. 
A superficial perusal of the separate documents discloses little 
of the real human interest concealed within the terse and dis- 
connected paragraphs. The members of the Executive Com- 
mittee were not concerned with problems of criminal psychology ; 
their literal transcriptions of sordid testimony and of brutal 
confessions were written down with the sole object of obtaining 
a knowledge of the criminal situation existing in their com- 

In this purpose they were very successful, and the documents 
offer many striking illustrations of the local conditions we have 
discussed.^ We see in them how easy it was for criminals to 
escape punishment in California. A day's horseback ride could 
easily put them beyond the track of pursuit ; if arrested, clever 
lawyers were ready to sustain them in perjury, to arrange de- 
fense from the testimony of their very confederates, and to 
distribute bribes to officials and jurymen. Even when the law 
had done its utmost, insecure prisons offered many opportunities 
of escape. 

1 See Papers, Index, under the headings, Bail, Bribery, Courts of Califor- 
nia, Jails, Murders, Perjury, Robberies. 

306 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

These documents give us also a hundred minute, instantaneous 
pictures of the underworld of San Francisco, and of the life 
that moved with stealthy footsteps through the chain of vicious 
lodging houses kept hj convict landlords for the accommodation 
of convict guests.^ Such a place was the Uncle Sam when owned 
by the thief Jenkins and by his successors, Connolly and Thomas 
Burns. Such was McManus' Welcome, on North Beach, to which 
Burns removed when even the change of name to Shipman's 
Arms failed to make Jenkins' old stand a profitable investment. 

The ex-convicts developed a happy faculty of christening 
their places with alluring names, and innocent, indeed, were the 
signs that ornamented the doorways of these wretched dens. 
Barnes, the tinman, kept the Cottage of Content; King, the 
barber, owned the Bird in Hand ; Robert Ogden welcomed guests 
to the Live and Let Live ; Goff , an ex-convict, owned the Panama 
House ; Whittaker and McCormac, the Port Phillip ; Mrs. Ryan 
and Mrs. Wilson, matrons from Sydney, presided respectively 
over the Rose Cottage and the Heart in Hand, but it does not 
appear that any poetic designation was attached to Mrs. Hogan's 
house, which was perhaps the most dangerous trysting place 
of all. From morning till night and from night till morning 
the bars and card rooms of these inns were open to their habitues. 
Even today the reader of the strange confessions may enter un- 
challenged and watch forgotten dramas of San Francisco life — 
as much a part of history as are the stories of the mining camps 
and worth, as history, a moment of attention here. 

Here is a simple tale entitled, ''Dishonor Among Thieves." 
Characters : James Kelly, the fighting man ; his friend Vyse, the 
bear hunter; other friends, among whom are Sam Whittaker, 
then the proprietor of the Port Phillip House, the latter 's part- 
ner, Teddy McCormac, and Robert McKenzie; supernumeraries, 

2 See Papers, Index, under ' * Lodging houses reported by the Committee 
as suspicious." 

Adventures in Crime 307 

Osman, Old Jack, and King, the barber, owner of the Bird in 
Hand. Scene: a public house near the Mission Dolores, where 
Kelly has just been worsted in a prizefight with a man named 
McGee, and has been consoled with $900 gate money, which now 
is in the keeping of his colleague, the bear hunter. While the de- 
feated pugilist is in retirement Whittaker and McKenzie accost 
Vyse and ask for an opportunity to condole with his principal. 
There is some talking, some drinking. Vyse takes McKenzie 
into another room, and for a few minutes the money is left 
unguarded! The sympathetic friends appropriate it without 
delay and make a hasty exit, leaving McKenzie to comfort the 
"fighting man." A few hours later McKenzie finds his asso- 
ciates at the Bird in Hand, on Montgomery Street, and demands 
his share of the plunder. He is told, however, that ''some one" 
has stolen $600 on the way home, and $35 apiece is the meager 
reward of the afternoon's adventure. Disappointment rankles 
in the breast of the defrauded McKenzie. When opportunity 
arises he discloses the whole affair to James Kelly himself. 
Swiftly the latter devises vengeance, pounces upon McCormac, 
who has attachable property in the Port Phillip House, and 
during an absence of the more astute Whittaker forces him by 
threats of imprisonment and lynching to give up possession of 
the place. The play ends with Kelly reimbursed, McCormac 
outwitted, and Whittaker, ousted from his own bar, betaking 
himself to the solace of Mrs. Hogan's lodging house.^ 

Another drama, "The Disappointed Locksmith," introduces 
Joseph Marks, sometime a member of the city police force, later 
a clerk of Colonel Stevenson, and finally discharged from that 
office. Angered by the loss of his position, he tempts the expert 
burglars George Adams and William Watkins to help him 
satisfy his grudge by robbing his former employer. Adams is 
cautious, suspicious ; advises delay . IMarks pleads for haste, since 

^Papers, 464-465, 469. 

308 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

his pockets are empty and he has neither food nor shelter. 
Adams, comfortably enjoying his British ' ' tea, ' ' bestows largess 
upon him and instructs him how to take a soap impression of 
the key to Stevenson's place of business. Marks visits the office, 
accomplishes the errand, and slips the mold into his pocket, 
where it is ruined by the time he returns to his friends. Another 
trip to the office, another soap impression, another five dollars 
gratuity. The key is made, Mark 's status as a trustworthy rascal 
is verified, and when the chosen night arrives a little group of 
four gathers in the shadows about the empty office building. 
Marks is posted as sentinel ; the others disappear within. Lights 
flare up; there is a quick rush of armed men; Marks plays the 
role of informer; his companions, sullen and pinioned, are 
escorted to the city lockup. Marks, restored to the good graces 
of Colonel Stevenson as a detector of thieves, is made an assistant 
to the Committee of Vigilance in the effort to recapture Adams, 
who has speedily regained his freedom.* 

Again, we have "A Matter of Compromise." The scene is 
laid in Monterey, the old capital of California, about the historic 
Custom House, which in December, 1850, was in charge of Dr. 
Andrew Randall. During his absence the building was entered 
and fourteen thousand dollars of his personal funds were stolen. 
Osman, Ryan, Briggs, and ''Old Jack" Morgan were arrested, 
and a sum approximating Dr. Randall's loss was recovered from 
them. They gave bail and were set at large pending trial, to 
improve the interval by continuing their professional operations 
under the able direction of James Stuart. The theft of a safe 
in San Francisco resulted in the rearrest of Briggs and Morgan. 
The former, at least, did not wish to forfeit his heavy bail, so 
he escaped from prison in time to return to Monterey for trial. 
The case came up in April, and as the men were "too good and 
valuable to be locked up," Belcher Kay and Stuart, himself, 
superintended the defense. 

4^ Papers, 306, 318, 319, 344, 410-412. 

Adventures in Crime 309 

We have a glimpse of the court room, with the counsel on 
both sides, men whose names and faces were long familiar at 
the California bar; we see the jury, on whom bribe money has 
been lavished ; we see Stuart, alias Carlisle, and Whittaker, also 
incognito, taking oath in the defense of their fellows; and we 
hear the foreman of the jury announce the expected disagree- 
ment. The case is too vexatious to risk another trial, so, on 
advice of the defendants' counsel, the efficient Stuart breaks 
open the jail. Exit prisoners, but a trifling matter of business 
remains. The money in dispute, over thirteen thousand dollars, 
has been placed in custody of the courts until its rightful owner- 
ship shall be established. Dr. Eandall has demanded its restor- 
ation ; Messrs. Osman, Ryan, Briggs, and Morgan, while still in 
confinement, have claimed it as theirs. Both parties have insti- 
tuted civil suits for its recovery. But now, deciding to forego 
annoying litigation, they effect a friendly compromise, deduct 
the costs of the trial from the amount in question, and divide the 
balance. A delightful example of evenhanded justice !^ 

"The Sailor's Heirloom" shifts our attention to the little 
vessel James Caskie which lies offshore near Clark's Point, San 
Francisco, in October, 1850. James Stuart and three compan- 
ions, hearing that money is in the captain's possession, swarm 
aboard in the dead of night, masked, armed, and ruthless. They 
encounter the skipper, who puts up a desperate fight, for he 
has not only gold but a wife to protect, and his only helper is a 
boy whom the desperadoes quickly overpower. The woman, with 
a strength born of terror, rushes to her husband's side with a 
cutlass, but is disarmed and reduced to such a state of abject 
fear that she brings out all the weapons and money on board 

^ AUa, 1850, Dec. 19 %; 1851, April 21 %; Papers, 236 note 36, 371, 
570. The charges of wholesale corruption in this case made by Stuart were 
indignantly denied. Whittaker appeared as a well dressed gentlemanly 
visitor from San Francisco (Peckham, in San Jose Pianeer, 1877, Aug. 4, 
Scrapbook, pp. 33-34). See also the San Francisco Call, Feb. 5, 1893, p. 16. 

310 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

and thrusts them at the outlaws with pitiful appeals to spare her 
man, already half dead from a terrible beating. The chival- 
rous Stuart assures her that he wall be glad to do as she asks if 
the captain will remain quiet. While ransacking the cabin the 
leader adds to his favors by again yielding to her pleas and 
leaving in its place a fine gold watch, the gift of a beloved mother ; 
and he sternly quells the insubordination of his covetous crew 
by reminding them that they have made him master, and his 
orders must be obeyed. The captain and the boy are tied fast, 
and the pirates slip away into the darkness with a threat of 
worse to come if the woman utters a word within two hours. 
Her side of the story we do not know. Long before the two 
hours have elapsed Stuart and his pals have gained the shore 
and divided the plunder, which is less than $200, as the captain 
had that day sent his funds away by an outgoing steamer.^ 

A longer drama might be built up about the Jansen affair. 
"We are shown the plotters devising an attack and eager to rob 
a man who always kept English sovereigns in his safe for the 
special convenience of homeward-bound Australians. They con- 
coct, at first, a clever scheme.'^ Jansen is about to remove to a 
new store. His neighbor Whittaker learns that his funds are 
to be transported in a trunk placed on a cart and escorted by 
his clerk. When the guard seats himself upon the treasure chest 
he fails to notice that a lounger slips out the linchpin from the 
axle of the cart, nor does he suspect that footpads await the 
opportunity expected by the breakdown of the vehicle. But the 
joints of the wagon are stiff, the wheel remains in place, and the 

e Papers, 228-229. Alta, 1850, Oct. 27 % ; 29 %; Nov. 22 %. By a 
curious coincidence a physician (Samuel Merritt), who later became a 
member of the Committee of Vigilance, was near the scene of the Caskie 
robbery, and encountered a suspicious fugitive, whom he later recognized 
at headquarters as the prisoner Stuart (Oakland Tribune, 1884, Apr. 5 %). 

7 The details of this plan were told by Whittaker (Papers, 470). He 
also described a plot that involved robbing the San Francisco Custom House 
(ibid., 244 note 43). 

Adventures in Crime 311 

gold is safely deposited in the new office. The conspirators refuse 
to accept defeat. So we see them again loitering outside Jansen's 
door on a chilly February night; Old Jack enters to ask for 
blankets, and lingers so long that Stuart follows impatiently, 
concealing a bludgeon beneath his long camlet cloak. We see 
the cruel blow, so heavy that the victim screams but an instant ; 
the retreat with the treasure from the safe; the division of the 
spoils, $196 to each man ; and the placid reunion in Mrs. Hogan's 
barroom, after an incriminating watch had been tossed into the 

We see the same group gathered in the same place during 
the succeeding days, while the fate of Windred and Berdue 
hangs in the balance, and we know that their angry looks and 
gestures indicate their determination to burn the city if capital 
punishment overtakes those guiltless prisoners. That revenge is 
abandoned, but when the legal trials result in conviction Whit- 
taker resolves to right the injustice. He procures a key that 
will unlock the jail, and sends it to Windred by the latter 's wife, 
or by Mrs. Hogan. Windred escapes and hides at the Mission 
until a safe passage can be engaged for Australia. On a certain 
night the runaway crouches in an alley near Clark's Point; 
Kitchen lies ready with his boat ; Whittaker is directing affairs ; 
Mrs. Windred and Mrs. Hogan are concealed close at hand, 
waiting to say good-bye. The policemen who are patroling the 
street seem equally oblivious of Windred and of two other fugi- 
tives, Adams and Jim Briggs, who are enjoying themselves in 
the neighborhood. When the coast is clear a pass word calls 
Windred from concealment ; he snatches a moment with his wife, 
slips down into the boat, and is rowed away to the ship. Anxious 
days follow; Mrs. Windred, disguised as a man, calls regularly 
on Whittaker to learn if the vessel has sailed, and at last she 
too is smuggled on board. Still the departure is delaj^ed, with 

312 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

constant danger of detection. Then comes the great fire of 
May 4, and on the fifth the ship clears away from the smoulder- 
ing city, bearing two happy passengers who invoke blessings 
upon the head of Samuel Whittaker.^ 

Several pictures might be shown under the common title, 
''Baffled Villainy." One will suffice. It is night. Here is the 
office of Charles Minturn, on a wharf which stretches its slender 
length into the shadowy waters of the bay. A few oil lamps 
gleam in dancing spirals across the waves and make it possible 
to note a boat edging noiselessly along the piling until it comes 
to a mooring directly beneath the deserted building. Figures 
creep up a landing stage and enter the office, prepared to cut 
away the floor and lower the safe into the boat; McKenzie and 
Belcher Kay wait outside as lookouts. All goes well until an 
unwary interloper appears, a clerk or wharfinger returning for 
a forgotten paper. The lookouts signal the danger and dash off 
up the pier; the windows are thrown open; half a dozen forms 
hurtle through space into dark and friendly waters. In the 
bar of the Port Phillip House the swimmers meet again, furious 
with their lookouts because they have allowed them to run from 
one man, a weakness of which the leader, Stuart, seems heartily 
ashamed. The whole party is most soundly berated by George 
Adams, who, though excluded from the adventure, had loaned 
a kit of expensive tools on the promise of a generous share in 
the plunder. There is no plunder, and the tools are lost.^ 

Such were the everyday experiences related by the more 
adventurous men who fell into the hands of the Committee of 
Vigilance. Many of their obscure friends also gained distinction 
in the course of the protracted examinations, if not by sharing 
in deeds of daring, perhaps by the sheer force of some telling 
alias. Besides Dab and Jack Dandy and Jimmy from Town, 

8 Papers, 233-234, 470-471, 478-479, and Index under '^Jansen." 

9 Papers, Index under ' * Minturn. ' ' Eyckman gave some details of the 
attempt (MS Statement, 6-7). 

Adventures in Crime 313 

whom we have met already, the archives of the Committee res- 
cued from oblivion the names of Billy Sweet Cheese, Bungaraby 
Jack, and Moe the Jew ; of Big Brummy, a man of mystery ; of 
Tommy Round Head ; of Slasher, the cutthroat, and of Peruvian 
Angel, whose tint may be inferred from Havana, the city of his 
nativity. By these names they exchanged greetings in the reek- 
ing saloons of Sydney Valley ; by the same tokens they betrayed 
one another, as they strove to placate the Vigilantes with glib 
or halting confessions of crime. 

It should not be overlooked that these intimate pictures of 
San Francisco life have a value quite apart from their criminal 
connection in their many references to local happenings and 
points of interest. North Beach and Clark's Point, Long Wharf 
and Cat Alley, the El Dorado gambling house, and the Old 
Adobe are mentioned as familiar scenes of everyday existence. 
Many officials are named, for praise or for blame; members of 
the police force are critically appraised; and even the eight 
variations used in writing the city's name are not without in- 
terest to the collector of bygone traditions.^^ 

It is natural that queries should arise as to the reliability 
of this mass of confession and evidence. Can it be accepted 
at its face value, or must it be more or less discounted as a 
record of crime? Was there an opportunity for prisoners to 
consult one another, to prepare supporting falsehoods, and to 
protect themselves at the expense of others? And did they 
minimize or exaggerate their own misdeeds? There is no ques- 
tion that there was great opportunity for the prisoners of the 
Committee to prevaricate. There were minor discrepancies in 
the evidence presented by the various speakers, although there 
was little divergence that cannot be traced to the normal desire 
of each culprit to shift the heaviest blame to the shoulders of 
another. Stuart's confession was published in part on July 11, 

10 Papers, Index under ^'San Francisco. 

314 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

and republished in full a week later. Since doubtless it was 
read by every one of his confederates, it was natural that all 
of them who fell into the hands of the Committee should unite 
in emphasizing his guilt and in palliating their own. But even 
in following that course subsequent confessions contradicted 
Stuart in few points, and Whittaker's almost equally important 
story confirmed and amplified it in several particulars. 

Experience has shown that it is well to accept self-accusations 
with caution, especially those induced by threats or promises. 
In these accounts, however, when we turn to the accessible sources 
of verification, we find that the news items and the court reports 
of the San Francisco Herald and of the Alta California confirm 
the details of all the more important episodes related by the 
prisoners and the witnesses of the Committee. That is to say, 
the published facts as to time, place, method, and result, do not 
in any case conflict with the fuller statements submitted to the 
Committee of Vigilance. Those statements, therefore, must have 
been true at least in outline. 

Although the work involved in ferreting out and dispersing 
the members of this particular gang constituted the major por- 
tion of the activities of the Committee, the accomplices of James 
Stuart were not the only objects of investigation. Other arrests 
were deemed expedient. It also became a common practice for 
citizens to take to headquarters any man accused of any kind 
of crime. During the weeks of July and August and early 
September there were many such individual cases considered in 
the reports of the Executive Committee, and some of them should 
be mentioned here. 

While inspecting the haunts of the Sydney men the Com- 
mittee came upon John Goff, a lodging house keeper, and such 
a close friend of undesirable citizens that his record was ex- 
amined with attention. It was discovered that Goff had been 

Adventures in Crime 315 

transported for life on a charge of burglary, and had been per- 
mitted to leave the penal colonies only because of a conditional 
pardon, ''effective in all parts of the world except the United 
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. ' '^^ While he was never 
convicted of overt crimes against the peace of the Commonwealth 
of California, his house was such a rendezvous for those who 
did violate the laws, and for policemen suspected of abetting 
them, that a sentence of banishment was pronounced against 
him. The Committee was aware of much public sympathy with 
the accused, and therefore published the entire evidence in the 
case in the daily papers. Nevertheless it still insisted upon the 
execution of the sentence, although Goff's time was extended 
more than once on account of the illness of his wife. It is prob- 
able that he left the city on his own vessel, the Veto, some time 
about the middle of August. ^- 

One of the earliest appeals made to the Committee from 
without was a request from Lieutenant George H. Derby, of the 
Topographical Engineers, that the Vigilante police would ap- 
prehend one Samuel Church, who was a deserter from the army, 
a worthless scoundrel in general, and a blackguard in particular 
because of his theft of the aggrieved officer's favorite saddle 
horse. Lieutenant Derby, although a lover of stern discipline, 
possessed literary ability that made him famous, under the 
pseudonym of John Phoenix, as the author of popular humorous 
sketches; he was, moreover, a gifted letter writer, and he de- 
luged the Committee with reports covering the case, urging it 
to hang the man at once as the only way to rid the state of a 
dangerous criminal. The evidence of witnesses summoned from 
a distance at considerable expense clearly established Church's 
guilt. The Committee, however, voted to hand him over to the 
military authorities in spite of the fact that a flogging would 

11 See Herald, 1851, July 18 %. 

12 See Papers, Index, under ''John Goff. " 

316 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

be the heaviest punishment likely to befall him. Lieutenant 
Derby protested not a little at such leniency, but he did not 
forget to express his thanks "as a citizen and as an officer of 
the army ' ' for the work the society had done for the preservation 
of order in California. ^^ 

The action in the case of Church conformed with the prin- 
ciple of delivering prisoners to the constituted authorities when- 
ever it seemed probable that the laws would accomplish the ends 
desired for the good of the community. The same course was 
pursued with Hamilton Taft, a confessed thief from Placer 
County, who was sent back to the scene of his crime together 
with his plunder of fifteen hundred dollars. A guard was ap- 
pointed from the Committee, and two of his accusers assisted 
them, giving bonds of a thousand dollars that they would de- 
liver the prisoner and his booty to the officials of the county. 
The papers drawn up and signed in this connection illustrate 
a constant tendency to clothe the irregular acts of this voluntary 
association with the dignity and formality of legitimate legal 
transactions.^* It is curious to see that the men who hanged 
Stuart without the shadow of authority, four days later demanded 
a precise and formal bond to insure from other private citizens 
the performance of a duty which, by rights, appertained solely 
to officers of the law. Certainly the chairman of the Committee 
of Vigilance of San Francisco was scarcely in a position to 
undertake a suit in the courts of his city, and the carefully 
indited instrument could have exercised no very great compul- 
sion upon Benjamin Jenkins and David Howe, who put their 
names to the agreement. 

Samuel Church was not the only deserter of whom the Com- 
mittee took cognizance. Howard, another truant from the army, 
was returned to his commanding officer, and at least one run- 

is See Tavers, 85, 107-109, 199-200. 
1* Papers, 287-289. 

Adventures in Crime 317 

away sailor was restored to his ship.^^ W. G. Hance had escaped 
from a prison in Panama, where he was under sentence of death 
for murder. Warned of his presence in San Francisco, the 
Committee arrested him and sent him back to his own country 
"on the ground that it would be contrary to equity that he 
should be punished by us in the absence of all proof, and for 
crimes committed beyond our jurisdiction."^^ 

Among the vessels inspected by the Committee was the 
Johnson or Johnston from Sydney. Her surgeon. Dr. Kennedy, 
was arrested by the chief of the water police on the charge of 
stabbing the captain, and was immediately turned over to the 
city authorities.^^ 

More thorough investigations were made when there was 
evidence that crimes of violence arose from design and treachery 
rather than from bursts of sudden passion. For example : When 
Don Francisco Guerrero, a former Mexican magistrate, was 
thrown from his horse on the Mission Road and sustained fatal 
injuries that led to a rumor of foul play, the Committee lost 
not a moment in placing scouts all about the city in search of 
the suspected murderer, Francois Le Bras. He was soon ar- 
rested and was detained as a prisoner of the Committee, although 
he was produced at the inquest and was identified by the wit- 
nesses there present. The coroner's jury charged him with strik- 
ing Guerrero on the head and thus causing his death. But the 
Committee refused to give him up, even in response to a writ 
of habeas corpus, until an exhaustive investigation, attended by 

15 Papers, 596, 637, 638. The only record of the deserting sailor is 
found in the following notice from the Herald, 1851, June 26 % : 

''The Undersigned begs to return his sincere thanks to the 
Committee of Vigilance for the services rendered him last night in 
arresting a deserter from his vessel, and returning him on board. 

Capt. of Belg. ship Louis, consigned to 
E. Delessert, Ligeron & Co. ' ' 

16 Papers, 425, 608. The Herald, 1851, Nov. 18 %, reported that Hance 
Avas serving out his sentence in the chain gang in Carthagena. 

^T Papers, 430. 

318 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the French consul, had convinced the Executive Committee that 
the man was not guilty. After five days he was delivered to 
Sheriff Hays. In due time he was tried and acquitted.^^ 

Another murder on the Mission Road engaged the attention 
of the Committee. Thomas Wheeler, a former servant of Colonel 
Fremont, suddenly disappeared and his body was found bearing 
marks of violence. Thereupon Mrs. Fremont's brother, Mr. 
William Carey Jones, turned to the Committee of Vigilance as 
the most effective detective agency in the city. This appeal is 
another indication of the general approval of Vigilante methods, 
for Mr. Jones was a law-abiding citizen of unquestioned standing 
who had come to California in 1849 as a special government 
agent for the investigation of land titles. Before his letter was 
received the Committee was seeking the murderers. A few hours 
after Wheeler's body was found Sam Brannan noticed two un- 
prepossessing horsemen near the scene of the crime, and when 
they dashed off into the brush to avoid questions he summoned 
help and arrested them at the point of the pistol. Mr. Jones 
appeared at their trial, but their guilt was not established, and 
they were discharged after ten days.^® 

A curious instance, imperfectly explained by the records, 
was the case of four Chinese prisoners examined on July 4.^*^ 
John Lipscom and Norman Assing, the latter an interpreter 
and a man of some importance in the small Oriental colony, 
influenced the Committee to arrest four other Chinese, two men 
and two women, on the charge of maintaining a disreputable 
resort. It had been decided to deport the prisoners when Selim 
E. Woodworth, president of the General Committee, appeared 

^& Papers., 272, 275, 281, 291; Alta, 1851, July 14 %; 18 ^2; Nov. 16 %. 
A. A. Green said that Le Bras, who was supposed to be simple-minded, had 
been used as a tool by land schemers who wished to get Guerrero out of the 
way (MS Statement, 80). See also Eldredge, San Francisco, II, 534. 

19 See cases of W. L. Harding and John Olligin, Papers, 522, 542, 546, 

20 Papers, 165, 170-172. 

Adventures in Crime 319 

in their behalf on the ground that he was a ''Mandarin of the 
Celestial Empire, and Chinese Counsel," an expression which 
probably denoted some commercial relation with the Chinese 
companies engaged in the transportation of coolie immigrants.-^ 
Woodworth characterized the action as a conspiracy to deprive 
the accused of their liberty, and upon his request they were set 
at liberty. The fact that Assing had made vain efforts in the 
city courts to obtain possession of a certain emancipated and 
imprudent young matron called Atoy, with the ostensible pur- 
pose of returning her to a deserted husband in China, suggested 
that he might have hoped for better success through an appeal 
to the Vigilance Committee, but as the names of the women are 
not given in the documents their identity was a matter of con- 
jecture until it was confirmed by a paragraph in Holinski's 
La Calif ornie, which narrated the incident, and attributed Atoy's 
arrest to the efforts of the Chinese colony to suppress their 
notorious country- women. ^^ Holinski wrote : 

On fit entendre aux scrupuleux Chinois qu'il etait impossible d'excepter 
miss Atoy de la tolerance accordee par la police de San-Francisco a mille 
femmes au moins, americaines, frangaises, allemandes et espagnoles, dont 
la conduite n'est gnere plus edifiants. La deputation, quoique desappointee 
dans son but, se retira hautement edifiee de I'equite du tribunal des harhares, 
qui pese dans la meme balance et avee les memes poids les femmes de la 
ville, de quelque contree qu'elles arrivent. 

21 Frederick A. Woodworth, a brother of Selim, was mentioned as Chinese 
vice-consul, and agent for the ''China Boys" who participated in the 
memorial procession at the time of the death of President Polk (Alta, 1850, 
Aug. 28 Yij 29 %). ''The Honorable Mr. Woodworth, Chinese Mandarin 
in California," was mentioned in the Alta, 1851, March 6 %, and "Mr. 
Woodworth" was again named as the agent for the Chinese immigrants in 
the Alta, May 12 %. Mr. F. A. Woodworth, of San Francisco, a son of the 
Vigilante, Selim E. Woodworth, told me theft his father had no official rela- 
tion with the Chinese government. 

22 Holinski, La Calif ornie, 119. Atoy was considered very pretty. She 
spoke English and often wore Occidental dress. She was before the courts 
more than once for keeping a disorderly house (Alta, 1851, March 6 %; 
8 % ; Nov. 9 % • Dec. 14 % ; Reminiscences of C. P. Duane, in San Francisco 
Examiner, 1881, Jan. 23 i/j). Norman As Sing was mentioned by James 
O'Mera in "The Chinese in Early Days," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, III 
(1884), 478. 

320 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

For some reason that is not stated, the Vigilance Committee 
of Stockton sent to San Francisco a young man named Daniel 
Jenks, who had stolen a thousand dollars from a resident of Jack- 
sonville. Papers forwarded with the prisoner showed that he had 
borne a good character up to the time of the robbery. In spite 
of the fact that a mass meeting in Jacksonville recommended a 
whipping, the committee which transmitted the evidence advised 
that mercy should be shown "in consideration of the youth and 
previous good character of the accused, his bodily weakness, and 
the fact that this crime was in all probability his first offense. ' ' 
Jenks was quickly discharged without receiving any punishment 
at the hands of the Committee of San Francisco.^^ 

False clues were sometimes followed with amusing conse- 
quences. One paper is solemnly endorsed as the record of the 
case of ''Mary St. Clair against Hat & Boots found at foot 
of Mission St. ' ' The ' ' Hat & Boots ' ' were discovered weighted 
with bricks in the mud at low tide, and were so suggestive 
of murder that the Committee interrogated every livery man in 
town in quest of a carriage which had been seen to linger near 
the spot. The investigation showed that the water-soaked articles 
were indeed tokens of a crime, but of one that was already an 
old story. The carriage had been hired by two women who were 
inmates of the resort where Pollock had been killed on June 22. 
His clothing poignantly reminded them of the tragedy of his 
death, and they had therefore attempted to afford it a decent 
sepulcher beneath the waters of the bay.^* 

Other minor cases were investigated by the Committee, but it 
is unnecessary to mention here all the people who were arrested, 
as a sumimary of Vigilance activity will appear in a later chapter. 

The courts were still carefully watched during July and 
August. In one case the Committee was particularly interested 
— the trial of Charles Duane, a notorious bully and an unseru- 

23 Papers, 510-517. 

24 See mpra, p. 242; Papers, 382-384; Alta, 1851, June 23 %. 

Adventures in Crime 321 

pulous ward politician, who has already been introduced in these 
pages as an ally of Broderick at the time of Jenkins' execution. 
In March, 1851, Duane had been tried for shooting a man named- 
FayoUe. The jury had disagreed and the case had not come up 
again until the last of June, when it was dismissed because the 
necessary witnesses had left town. About a month later Duane, 
abetted by Ira Cole, made an unprovoked attack on Frank Ball, 
a member of the Committee, alleging that the latter had acted 
offensively while serving on the jury which had tried him. For 
this assault he was arrested. Much feeling attended the subse- 
quent trial, at which members of the Committee were excluded 
from jury service. Duane was convicted and sentenced to a 
year's imprisonment. While his lawyers were seeking to appeal 
the case Governor McDougal issued a pardon, and refused to 
make public his reasons for taking such a step in the face of 
positive proof of guilt.-^ The papers announced the pardon 
with great indignation, and the grand jury, which was then in 
session, went into court with the request that it be discharged, 
declaring that it was useless for jurymen to spend time and to 
risk the vengeance of criminals in seeking to convict felons who 
were so promptly set at liberty.^*^ Judge Campbell refused the 
request, but the incident clearly indicates the helplessness of 
the law-abiding citizens in the face of existing conditions. The 
Committee issued an order for Duane 's arrest, but it was re- 
turned with the report that he was supposed to have left the 
state on the steamer for Panama.-' He thus escaped punishment 
at the hands of the Committee of 1851, although he was less 
fortunate in 1856, when he was banished from California in 
spite of his powerful political friends.-^ 

25Alta, 1851, March 23 % ; court reports March 25-27; June 27 %; 
Papers, 96. 

26 Alta, 1851, Sept. 10 %. 

27 Papers, 590. 

28 See Papers, Index under ''Duane"; also Index of Popular Trihui^^ls. 
The case was frequently mentioned in the Herald and the Alta, July ^^ to 

322 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The Committee watched the progress of legal affairs not only 
to insist upon punishment of the guilty but also to defend the 
innocent. At the instance of Sheriff Hays an investigation was 
instituted into the case of John "Williams, who was serving a 
sentence in the county jail under conviction of an assault with 
intent to kill. When the Committee decided that the act was 
one of justifiable self-defense it successfully petitioned the gov- 
ernor for the prisoner's release.^^ 

This chapter was introduced by the statement that the mem- 
bers of the Committee of Vigilance had little interest in criminal 
psychology, but it should not close without remarking that the 
subject appealed to at least one observer of their activities. This 
was "Doctor" Collyer, known as the "Moddle artist man,"^^ 
who exercised his talents in a museum of anatomy of question- 
able reputation. This enterprising phrenologist desired to earn 
an honest penny as a by-product of Vigilante justice, and ad- 
vertised a lecture on the ''Anatomy of Crime," which is further 
explained in the following communication:^^ 

To the President and Members of the Executive Committee of the 
Vigilance Committee of San Francisco: 

Gentlemen: Tomorrow evening (Wednesday) I propose delivering a 
lecture on the ''Anatomy of Crime," illustrated by the skulls of Jenkins, 
Stuart, McKenzie, and Whittaker. 

Should you feel interested in the physiology and philosophy of the 
causes of mental action vrhich prompted these men to pursue an evil 
course in life, I will be most happy for you to accept an invitation, which 
I now tender you, to form a part of my audience. 

Yours, etc., Eob. H. Collyer. 

September 9, 1851. 

It is a matter of regret that the press failed to report the 
success of this edifying entertainment. 

Aug. 1, and again Sept. 5. Duane wrote some ''Recollections" which ran 
in the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Examiner, 1881, Jan. 9; 16; 23; 
Feb. 6; 20; 27; March 13; 20; 27; April 3 ; 17 ; May 8. They were abso- 
lutely unreliable, in so far as they dealt with the Vigilance Committee of 1851. 

29 Payers, 216-2r8. so Payers, 49. 

31 This letter is missing from the files, and is reprinted from Poyular 
Tribunals, I, 392. The lecture was advertised in the Alta, 1851, Sept. 8 %. 



The deaths of Stuart, Whittaker, and McKenzie, the incar- 
ceration of Adams and Jimmy from Town, and the banishment 
or voluntary departure from the country of Kay, Duane, and 
half a dozen others, effectually disintegrated the Sydney gang 
that had so long terrorized the community, and resulted in a 
marked diminution of crimes of violence throughout the state.^ 
The attention of the Committee continued to be occupied with 
the men still in custody, who were chiefly minor offenders or 
immigrants under investigation. Twenty or thirty of these cases 
were noted in the records during the four weeks following the 
last execution, and decisions show that a little over half of the 
suspects were discharged and that the remainder were sent out 
of California. 

As the consciousness of social security increased the question 
arose whether or not the Committee of Vigilance should continue 
to exercise an active supervision over public affairs. Some mem- 
bers felt that the excuse for their organization terminated with 
the relief of the emergency that had called them together f some, 
notably Stephen Payran, thought that the association should con- 
tinue unchanged for ' ' all time, ' '^ while a small group wished to 
prolong the influence of the leaders of the body by placing them 
in office at the approaching September election. 

On Saturday, August 23, a ''Meeting of Citizens" was held 
in the rooms of the Committee of Vigilance, and a committee 
was appointed to nominate candidates for the local offices.* 

1 See the discussion of criminal conditions, infra, p. 388. 

2 See resignation of E. M. Earl, Papers, 630. 
^Papers, 632. 4: Papers, 548. 

324 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

A second meeting took place on Monday evening, but there is 
no statement to show where the adjourned gathering was held. 
At that time a ticket was decided upon, and an address to the 
voters of the city w^as adopted. The latter was in the form of 
resolutions which declared that the one hope of civic regener- 
ation lay in more general devotion to the ordinary duties of 
citizenship, and in the election of fit officials, irrespective of 
party affiliations.^ The communication was dignified and force- 
ful, frank in its acknowledgment of social shortcomings in the 
past, but hopeful for better standards in the future. Although 
it was signed by fourteen members of the Committee, the society 
officially and publicly disavowed the action on the ground that 
political activity would be ruinous to the work for which it had 
been organized,^ and the further use of headquarters for any 
outside purpose was forbidden. In spite of this corporate atti- 
tude, members of the Committee, as individuals, pushed the 
campaign. The papers of the twenty-eighth published an in- 
dorsement of the ticket, and a call for a ratification meeting, 
signed by two hundred and three citizens, among whom were at 
least seventy-nine members of the Committee of Vigilance. On 
August 29 over fifteen hundred voters met and pledged them- 
selves to support the non-partisan ticket, which presented nine 
candidates for the legislature, eleven for county offices, and 
twelve for township positions. An exact analysis of the person- 
nel is difficult, as the official returns did not indicate the affili- 
ations of the township nominees, but the Alta said that the ticket 
as a whole included eight Whigs, twelve Democrats, and twelve 
Independents.'^ For the legislature and the county positions, 
the non-partisans made seven entirely independent nominations 
and indorsed three Whigs and ten Democrats. The Evening 
Picayune, a Whig paper, immediately charged that the whole 

5 Alia, 1851, Aug. 26 %. An extract from the address is printed in the 
Appendix, infra, p. 470. 

6 Papers, 550-552. ^ Alta, 1851, Aug. 31 %. 

Politics and Reorganization ^ 325 

movement was a clever ruse on the part of the Democrats to 
use the Committee as a tool to regain the control they had lost 
in April.« In spite of the fact that an effort had been made to 
put the Democratic party on record as opposed to the Commit- 
tee,^ this charge was repeated as long as the campaign was 
under way, while it was as constantly contradicted by the Alta 
and the Herald. 

One of the most important indorsements was that of the 
Democrat, Alexander Campbell, to succeed himself as judge of 
the County Court. The Vigilantes, whose indictment for murder 
he had urged upon the grand jury, staunchly supported him in 
the office where they had found him fearless and incorruptible.^*^ 

G. W. Ryckman made an interesting contribution to the 
history of this political effort. He said that on the day after 
the execution of Whittaker and McKenzie he had the f oUowing 
conversation with Jack Hays, who had anticipated renomination 
for the office of sheriff :^^ 

He said to me: ''Kyckman, I am mortified to death. ... It destroys 
any hope I may have for a renomination, for I could not be elected; the 
people would frown upon what they would consider a neglect of duty.'' 
I said, ' ' Colonel, don 't be foolish. Seek the nomination. We will organize 
a Vigilance Committee ticket, put you on, and elect you by 1500 to 2000 
majority. ' ' He took the hint, and accepted the nomination. We got up 
a Vigilance Committee ticket, put him on for Sheriff, and he was elected 
by 2000 [1826] majority. 

The campaign for this non-partisan ticket was brief but 
spirited. When the official returns were announced it was shown 
that the Independents had controlled 1000 to 1300 votes out of 

8 Picayune, 1851, Aug. 26-Sept. 4. 

9Eesolutions to this effect had been published in the Herald, 1851, 
Aug. 5 %. See also Popular Tribunals, I, 322-323. 

10 Judge Campbell, then in private practice, also opposed the Committee 
of '56, and even left San Francisco at the time for temporary residence m 
the Hawaiian Islands (Shuck, Bench and Bar in California, 125). 

11 Ryckman, MS Statement, 16-17. 

326 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

a total of about 5700.^- Though none of the out-and-out Inde- 
pendent candidates was elected, the vote in the case of coalition 
candidates was sufficient to upset the previous Whig majority, 
and to elect all the Independent-Democrats, who ran about 
one thousand votes ahead of the regular Democratic ticket. The 
Independent-Whigs were also elected, and the figures proved that 
the party inaugurated at the headquarters of the Committee of 
Vigilance was able to exercise a decisive influence in city affairs. 
Jacob R. Snyder, a Democrat elected to the state senate, was an 
active member of the Committee, as was A, J. Ellis, a Whig who 
was sent to the assembly, and the two legislators resigned in No- 
vember to take up their duties at the capital.^ ^ Herman Wohler, 
a Democrat elected to the assembly, was a less prominent com- 
mitteeman. P. A. Roach, of Monterey, also a member of the 
San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, was chosen for the senate 
at this same September election. Whatever may have been the 
subtle influences of the Democratic politicians, even the Picayune 
admitted that the Independents had selected the best candidates 
for indorsement.^* 

The gratifying result of the attempt to purify local politics 
raised sanguine expectations of improvement in local conditions. 
But a curious situation which arose in the municipal offices 
of San Francisco went far towards checking the efforts at reform. 
It will be remembered that under the terms of the new charter 
a Whig council had been elected in April, 1851. This body 
quickly won the confidence of the community by the commend- 
able economy of its administration.^^ There was a question. 

12 Herald, 1851, Sept. 14. For the state offices, to which the Independents 
made no nomination, the Whigs polled a majority of 469 to 912, and they 
had a majority of 400 to 600 for local offices except where the rival Demo- 
crats were endorsed by the Independents. 

i^ Papers, 706. 

i^ Picayune, 1851, Aug. 30 %• 

15 See Annals, 348-350, Hittell, California, III, 408-409 ; contemporary 
papers, especially Alta, Aug. 27 % ; 29 %; Sept. 5 %; Dec. 25 %; 26 %; 
Herald, Aug. 29 %; 30 %; Sept. 1 %; Dec. 25 %. The papers commended 
the old council, but Hittell said it nearly bankrupted the city. 

Politics mid Reorganization 327 

however, as to its legal term of office ; the wording of the charter 
was ambiguous, and while some politicians claimed that a new 
council should be chosen in September others maintained that 
the existing body should hold over until September, 1852. The 
latter interpretation was adopted by the Whigs in office, and 
when September came they issued no call for elections for the 
city positions. 

The Democrats, with nothing to lose, decided to put the 
matter to a test, and nominated a full ticket. The Independents, 
who desired no change in the city government, refrained from 
wasting any energy on a contest they deemed futile, although 
some party of obscure origin attempted to present a city ticket 
which included several members of the Committee of Vigilance. 
This was published in a single issue of the Herald, but seems to 
have been withdrawn after some of the nominees repudiated the 
movement. The only candidates considered at the polls were 
those on the Democratic ticket, who were elected by a light and 
uncontested vote. When they attempted to claim their positions 
the old officials refused to withdraw and the matter was taken 
to the courts. Late in December the case was decided against 
the incumbents, and they reluctantly retired in favor of the 
triumphant Democrats. 

By this unexpected shifting of the local administration the 
Democratic machine acquired control of the city at the very 
moment when the public conscience was aroused to the need of 
reform, and when the better element was effectively organized 
in a non-partisan campaign ; for the independent vote had elected 
Democrats to some of the most important positions in the county, 
and the excitement of that open contest had entirely diverted 
public attention from the quiet movement for city positions by 
which skilful leaders sought to regain their former prestige. 
The new comptroller, James W. Stillman, was a member of the 
Committee of Vigilance, as were Caleb Hyatt and J. H. Blood, 

328 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

aldermen, and D. W. Lockwood and W. H. Crowell, assistant 
aldermen. None of them played any important part in the work 
of the association, and their connection with it is not noted in 
the newspapers that have been consulted in preparing this ac- 
count of the election. It is unlikely that they were elected by 
the votes of their fellow Vigilantes, or that they served as any 
effective check on an administration that soon became a target 
for charges of extravagance and corruption. 

As the third month of the Conunittee's activities drew to a 
close it became apparent that its continued existence did not 
depend so much upon the personal convictions of individual 
members as upon their ability to defray the heavy expenses 
entailed by the work. 

The constitution made no provision for financial needs, but 
we learn from the documents that each member was assessed 
five dollars a month for current expenses, and that fines were 
imposed for absence from duty. The reports of the sergeant- 
at-arms show that 306 members paid initiation fees of five dollars 
before June 26. A month later a total of 550 initiation fees had 
been paid, while 80 were still due. In July 216 paid the monthly 
assessment and 336 were delinquent; $100 was paid in fines. ^^ 

On July 5 a committee of five was appointed to hear the 
excuse of delinquent members, as about one hundred had never 
paid the initiation fee of five dollars, and $1025 was due for 
fines.^^ At this time J. W. Salmon, the first treasurer, was 
obliged to resign because of ill health, and the position was filled 
by Eugene Delessert, who remained in office until April, 1852. 
When the funds were transferred the amount on hand was $800, 
the debts of the association were $920, and the estimated monthly 
expenses were $1500. At the end of the month the finance com- 
mittee reported that $400 was due on initiation fees and $1680 

'^^ Papers, 764, and Index under ''C. of V. — Finances." 
■i-T Papers, 177, 205-206. 

Politics and Beorgamzation 329 

on the monthly assessment of five dollars, and that in default 
of these payments the treasurer, Mr. Delessert, had advanced 
$500 out of his own pocket. ^^ On this showing it was recom- 
mended that subcommittees, especially the water police, should 
exercise greater economy in their expenditures. A few days later 
plans were made to find less expensive rooms for headquarters, 
and the salary of the sergeant-at-arms was reduced from $200 
to $150 a month.^^ 

Frequent resolutions on the subject of delinquent members 
show the difficulty of collecting funds. At various times it was 
voted that the guard should question every one at the door and 
admit no one who had not paid up to date ; that names of those 
in arrears should be read aloud in the meetings, and that de- 
linquents should be assigned to guard duty at night. -*^ A col- 
lector was appointed on July 19, and an additional collector on 
August 8. The latter reported three days later that he had with 
great difficulty secured $200 and could no longer continue in the 

But the ordinary expenses of the Committee did not seriously 
threaten to bankrupt the organization ; dues and fines were paid, 
even if with reluctance, and the support of the public was proved 
by frequent contributions.-- A far more serious embarrassment 
was imminent in the possibility of an adverse decision in the 
suit of Metcalf vs. Argenti et al., which came up for trial in the 
Supreme Court on August 16. Contrary to the advice of some, 
of the members, especially of Stephen Payran, the Committee 
had assumed the expense of the defense, evidently with the ex- 
pectation that the attorneys would volunteer their services. This 

^8 Papers, 377. 

19 Papers, 443, 447. 

20 Papers, 403, 440, 510. 

21 Papers, 544. 

22 Treasurer Salmon raised nearly $1000 by outside subscriptions 
(Papers, 205, 752). 

330 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

hope was disappointed. The defendants' lawyers demanded 
compensation for their services, and thus created a serious situ- 
ation in the face of the depleted treasury.^^ 

The case aroused much interest and served as a test of public 
sentiment for and against the Committee. The prospective jurors 
were sharply questioned as to their sentiments towards the 
organization, and several plainly avowed their approval, while 
a few were as frankly antagonistic.^* Members of the searching 
party testified freely concerning their participation in the raid. 
Yet, in spite of the incontestable proof of violent trespass upon 
Metcalf 's premises, and of the impassioned appeals of his coun- 
sel, the hearing resulted in a disagreement.^^ The plaintiff 
immediately moved for a new trial and raised his claim for 
damages to $50,000, thus forcing the Committee to expect in- 
creased expenses as the case progressed. 

Certain passages in the press reports of the Argenti trial 
hint of occurrences within Vigilante headquarters that left no 
record in the archives. Metcalf 's suit was first noticed in the 
documents on July 3, and the minutes of the General Meeting on 
the fifth record the passage of a resolution directing a subcom- 
mittee to call upon his lawyers, Lockwood, Tilford & Randolph, 
and ask them to withdraw the complaint. This appeal proved 

24 The Herald of Aug. 18 reported, among others, the following answers: 
Question to F. Adams, not a member of the Committee: ^'Do you believe 

that the defendants as members of the Vigilance Committee have a right to 
enter and search a house without cause?" Answer: '^I believe that they 
had a cause ; I think the Vigilance Committee is right. ' ' Set aside for cause. 

J. Wilbur [Wilber] : ''Am proud to say that I am able to present a 
character that entitles me to a membership of the Vigilance Committee." 
Challenged peremptorily by plaintiff. 

J. W. Young: ''If I thought the law was wrong and the rules of the 
Committee right, I would rather lean to the latter. ' ' Excused. Young was 
mentioned as a member of the Committee, but his name is not on the roll. 

Marion McNulty, not a member : ' ' No self -constituted body has the right 
to act in opposition to the law. ' ' 

^^ Payers, 216, 290, 591, 598, 615. 

25 The case was reported in the Herald, and the Alta, 1851, Aug. 17-25. 
The pleadings of Lockwood Avere published in pamphlet form and used as 
a campaign document in the September election {Herald, 1851, Sept. 1 %). 

Politics and Reorganization 331 

a grave error in judgment, as it gave those gentlemen an oppor- 
tunity to make an exceedingly sarcastic rejoinder, which was 
published with varying comment in several of the papers.^*^ A 
few days later it came to the knowledge of the Executive Com- 
mittee that one of their number, John F. Spence, had spread a 
report that Stuart had implicated Mr. Tilford in his confession, 
and the president was immediately instructed to make official 
denial of the charge, an errand which Payran discharged in most 
courteous fashion. The retraction was a direct reflection on the 
gossip of Spence, whose attendance at the Executive meetings 
was thenceforth very irregular.^^ It is quite possible that the 
rebuke rankled in his mind, for when he was on the witness stand 
at the trial he revealed a bit of inner history of the Committee 
by testifying that the motion to communicate with Metcalf's 
lawyers had never received the approval of a majority of the 
Committee, had been rejected at the General Meeting, and had 
only been passed later in the evening by a small number who 
reconvened after the dispersal of the others.^^ Mr. Spence was 
immediately asked to tender his resignation, but he did not 

26 Papers, 155-156, 177, 210. The following preamble appeared in some 
of the papers: 

''To the 'Vigilance Committee' 

San Francisco, July 7th, 1851. 
Sundry fools or knaves, (perhaps both,) styling themselves 'The 
Vigilance Committee,' having caused to be transmitted to the firm of 
Lockwood, Tilford & Randolph, a silly but impudent resolution, ' That 
a committee be appointed to wait on Messrs. Lockwood, Tilford & 
Randolph, acting as counsel in the case of Metcalf v. Argenti, Atkins, 
and others, and they are hereby directed to request those gentlemen 
to withdraw the suit, and decline further proceedings in the matter 
touching the case.' As a member of that firm, my only answer to 
the aforesaid fools or knaves, (in addition to my 'verbal' response 
to the bearers of the resolution,) is, 'I do defy, deny, spurn, and 
scorn you. ' ' 

R. A. Lockwood." 

(Reprinted in the California Ccmrier, 1851, July 9 %)• The Picayune 
supported the laAvyer's position (July 8 %), but the Herald strongly upheld 
the Committee (editorial of July 9). 

27 Pavers, 265-267, 434. 

28 Herald, 1851, Aug. 19 %. 

332 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

comply with the request until the announcement of the inde- 
pendent political ticket gave him a pretext for a dignified with- 

The resolution of which Spence spoke is incorporated about 
midway in the proceedings of the evening of July 5, as if it 
had been adopted while the meeting was in full session, and a 
little later is recorded the more important resolution which 
claimed the right to search suspected premises. Eelative to the 
latter, Stephen Payran testified that he had no knowledge at 
all of the action, and William Sharon deposed that there was 
decided opposition to its adoption. The resolution appeared in 
the daily papers subscribed ''By order of the Committee of 
Vigilance, No. 67, Secretary." It is interesting to observe that 
in reply to questions on the witness stand Sharon disclaimed 
knowledge of the identity of ''No. 67," and Payran calmly 
affirmed : ' ' We have no secretary. ' '^^ If the Herald quoted that 
statement correctly, Mr. Payran must have juggled with his 
conscience. Certainly his utterances cannot be defended on any 
ground known to the writer. 

While considering this episode it may be remarked that two 
days after the passage of the contested resolutions the General 
Committee decided that a two-thirds vote should be required for 
the reconsideration of a measure once adopted. ^^ This ruling 
may have been prompted by the action of the small group which 
reversed the full vote in the matter of Metcalf 's lawyers. The 
incident in itself and the sworn testimony at the trial lead one 
to speculate whether the secretary did not sometimes fail to 
record occasions that gave rise to significant differences of opinion. 

There were other occurrences, very lightly emphasized in 
the minutes, which indicated that a certain amount of friction 
constantly accompanied the work of the Committee, and that it 

29 Papers, 509, 552. ^-^ Papers, 204. 

30 Berald, 1851, Aug. 19 %. 

Politics and Reorganization 333 

was not only the hot temper of the first president that precipi- 
tated hard feeling. McDuffee, the sergeant-at-arms who had 
quarreled with Brannan in June, incurred the displeasure of the 
Executive Committee early in August, so that he was censured 
for some unrecorded official action. After a short period of pro- 
bation, he finally resigned.^^ Occasional complaints were regis- 
tered against the character of members or against their insub- 
ordinate or overbearing behavior.^^ One of the expeditions sent 
out after Whittaker was nearly wrecked because of internal dis- 
sension; convicts escaped from the inspected vessels on account 
of conflict between the guards.^* When the fate of George Adams 
was under discussion the divergent views were sharp and deter- 
mined; and as soon as that matter was decided Colonel "William 
C. Graham, a faithful attendant at the meetings of the Executive 
Committee, and its secretary for some months, tendered his resig- 
nation on the ground that he could no longer act in a body where 
a small minority had the rule. For some reason he reconsidered 
his action, then resigned again, but again continued his services 
until August 17, when he resigned once more, together with eight 
others, who complained that jealousy and petty interference with 
delegated powers were hampering their performance of impor- 
tant duties.^^ That seems to have been the final exit of Mr. 
Graham, but the other eight immediately resumed their seats 
in the circle about the table in the Executive chamber. It was 
a few days after this that Sheriff Hays seized Whittaker and 

32 Papers, 418, 571. See also infra, p. 367. 

33 See Papers, Index under *'C. of V.— Relations which indicated fric- 
tion. ' ' 

s^ Papers, 414^417. 

35 Papers, 427, 462, 498-500. The resignation was signed by Payran, 
Ryckman, Graham, J. B. Huie, Garwood, Schenck, Bluxome, Wadsworth, 
A. J. Ellis. There were earlier resignations that may or may not have been 
significant. John Buckler and Alexander Murray found that health forbade 
them to carry out the duties of the Committee (ihid., 153, 177); R. S. 
Watson and William T. Coleman had no time to continue in the Executive 
Committee (ihid., 217, 440). 

334 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

McKenzie from their passive guards, and it is doubtful if the 
suspicions of treachery that arose from the surrender were ever 
fully dispelled. 

Whatever might have been the issues of this period, they 
received scant consideration in the records. Various reports 
indicate that routine business progressed as usual, but there are 
no minutes of Executive meetings from the date of the seizure 
of Whittaker and McKenzie until the middle of September, when 
the Committee of Vigilance was thoroughly reorganized. The 
recollections of the members ignored the lapse, and Bancroft did 
not explain it in Popular Tribunals. 

It is probable that an unwritten law of the Committee pro- 
hibited resignations except for the most urgent cause,^^ never- 
theless several were tendered just at this time. Some who asked 
to withdraw gave no reason at all, or alleged business or domestic 
preoccupations, others expressed frank disapproval of the policies 
of the Committee. J. W. Salmon and H. D. Evans resigned 
without explanation on August 20 ; George Melius resigned Aug- 
ust 30, and on the same day Lloyd Minturn and C. S. "Woods 
asked for long leaves of absence.^^ It is evident that under- 
lying these evidences of disaffection was an increasing difference 
of opinion over the future of the Committee of Vigilance, with 
a conviction on the part of a growing majority that some form 
of reorganization was imperative, since by this time conditions 
in the city showed signs of decided improvement. Stuart's gang 
was broken up, and by September 6 the Executive Committee 
was able to make reports and recommendations covering the dis- 
position of every prisoner then in custody.^^ It announced that 
many of the suspects ordered to leave California had consented 
to defray their own expenses back to Australia and showed them- 
selves quite willing to depart in perfect satisfaction with the acts 

36 See infra, p. 355. 

5-! Papers, 527, 577, and Index under '^C. of V. — Eesignations. 

38 Papers, 591-598. 

Politics aoid Beorgcmization 335 

of the Committee. The concluding sentences of the general report 
then transmitted read: 

Our labours are now completed and so far peace, and security, have 
attended our efforts for the public good, we earnestly hope that the 
Blessing of Almighty God may rest upon us, may the cessation of our 
labours, be no cause on the part of the vicious, to renew their course of 
life to the injury of the people. 

We trust that those in power at this time, and those who shall succeed 
them, by reason of the late election may so learn wisdom, that in the 
exercise of their representative duties, they may ease the weight from 
the shoulders of their constituents, and thereby honour their common 
Country and preserve their institutions unsullied. 

It will now become you, to adopt some action for the future, to so 
base the present institution, that it may silently be a terror to all evil 
doers, and a rewarder of all that do well, that it may be a guardian spirit 
of the land. 

Events proved that this recommendation embodied the con- 
viction of a majority of the members. On September 9 the 
General Committee appointed a subcommittee to ''make such 
suggestions or propositions as may be of interest to the associ- 
ation," and to nominate a new Executive Committee of twenty- 
five. On the same day E. M. Earl asked to have his name 
stricken from the lists, as he believed the time had come to sur- 
render power into the hands of the representatives recently 
elected by the people. ^^ On the eleventh James F. Curtis dis- 
covered that his business engagements would not allow the un- 
remitting attention demanded by the duties devolving upon mem- 
bers of the Executive Committee.*^ On the thirteenth Thomas 
McCahill, who had caused offense by remarks derogatory to the 
chief of police, acceded with ''grate pleasure" to a request that 
he should withdraw from the Executive Committee. On the 
same day J. B. M. Crooks was incontinently expelled from the 
society when his bill for delinquent fees was returned with the 
crisp annotation "Says he will be dam^ before he pays."*^ 

39 Papers, 601, 630. 4i Papers, 621, 627, 631. 

^0 Papers, 630. 

336 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Such occurrences were straws showing cross currents of 
opinions. Stephhen Payran was far more definite in the ex- 
pression of his attitude, and he tendered his resignation from 
the Executive Committee as a protest against the proposed 
changes. He interpreted them as censure upon his personal con- 
duct of affairs, and he stated at a later time that he had been 
informed that the dissolution of the association had been threat- 
ened because he was accused of exercising too absolute a power.'*^ 
In his note of resignation he took the opportunity to say : 

I would love to see it [the .Committee], continue for all time, and 
firmly believe that if the Association could exist under its present order, 
it would tend to preserve the happy state of our City and State, and make 
it the abode of Safety, happiness and prosperity — 

Dissolve it, or do anything that would serve to disorganize it, in its 
essentials, you will throw it open to abuses, never to be recovered from — 
Anarchy and confusion would soon reign in our midst. 

In spite of his wounded feelings Payran did not insist upon 
the acceptance of his resignation ; he continued to serve as presi- 
dent, and even formulated a plan for a modification of the work 
of the Committee, although there is no annotation to show that 
his scheme was ever submitted for discussion.*^ 

By the fifteenth of September disposition had been made of 
every case before the Committee, and the prisoners' room at 
Vigilance headquarters was empty.** On the evening of the 
sixteenth a General Meeting was held, the minutes for which are 
unfortunately lacking. At that meeting, however, was presented 
the report of the Committee on reorganization, which is incor- 
porated in the minutes of September 17. It recommended the 
adjournment of the General Committee sine die, and the election 
of an Executive Committee of forty which should hold office 
for six months, should "watch with vigilance" the actions of 

42 Papers, 631-632, 701. 

43 Papers, 632-634. 

44 Papers, 639; Herald, 1851, Sept. 18 %. 

Politics mid Reorganization 337 

public courts and officers, and should suggest desirable statutes 
for the improvement of criminal legislation. It was expressly 
stipulated that the Executive Committee should have no authority 
to make arrests, but that it should summon the General Com- 
mittee in ca^e of any emergency, and act only under instruction 
therefrom; and the members were solemnly warned that the 
entire body of the associates and the community at large would 
hold them strictly accountable for the faithfulness with which 
they fulfilled this delegated task. 

This report w^as adopted ; the Executive Committee was elected 
as nominated, and the five members of the committee on re- 
organization w^ere added to their number. Almost all the old 
and active members were retained, Brannan and Coleman were 
again included, and additions w^ere made from the ranks of those 
who had taken an active part in the work of the General Com- 

45 Papers, 642-644. The meeting was reported in the Herald, Sept. 

18 2/2. 



The new Executive Committee convened on September 17, and 
organized by electing Payran as president and Bluxome as secre- 
tary/ The latter offered his resignation before long, as he could 
not afford the time necessary for the position, but he consented 
to remain in office when allowed a salary of $100 a month.- D. 
L. Oakley, the sergeant-at-arms, was also given an equal salary 
to take care of the rooms, to keep them open day and night, and 
to admit members ''agreeably to the rules of the Association."^ 

On September 27 by-laws were adopted which defined the 
duties of the officers and provided for weekly meetings of the 
Executive Committee with a necessary quorum of nine attend- 
ants, and for special meetings of the General Committee upon 
the written request of any five members.^ The Alta spoke of the 
reorganization as an ''adjournment" of the General Committee 
and congratulated the association on the accomplishments that 
permitted a cessation of activities.^ But the Evening Picayune 
did not attribute the step to improved conditions, but to the 
great expense attending the work and to the very general con- 
demnation of the Committee expressed by the commercial papers 
of the eastern states.*^ The editor thought that in spite of the 
appointment of the committee of forty-five it was unlikely that 
the association would be continued, owing to the danger in its 
methods. The Committee repudiated with vigor the insinuations 

1 Papers, 645-646 ; revised Hst of members, 652. 

2 Papers, 678. 

5 Papers, 650. 5 Alta, 1851, Sept. 17 %. 

^Papers, 659-661. ^ Picayune, 1851, Oct. 1 %. 

The Closing Months 339 

of the Picayune, and took occasion to print full and frequent 
notices of its meetings in the advertising columns of the daily 

A week after the reorganization the Committee removed to 
smaller and less expensive quarters,^ which were described as 
follows in the Alta of November 3 : 

The V. C. Rooms. — The rooms of the Vigilance Committee, situated 
on the corner of Sacramento and Battery streets, over Middleton & 
Smiley 's store, are handsomely furnished. The floor is carpeted. At one 
end is a handsome rostrum, containing an elegant chair for the President. 
In front of the desk hangs a small banner belonging to the Committee. 
Behind the President's chair is an elegant mirror. 9 Down the centre of 
the room is a table containing books, an ornamental inkstand, &c., &c. 
At the eastern end, opposite the rostrum, the daily papers are to be found 
on file. The windows are neatly curtained; while hanging against the 
wall are pictures and maps. The large banner which was presented to 
the Committee by the ladies of Trinity Church, is rolled up and deposited 
in a small room adjoining the room for meetings; where are also the 
hand cuffs, chains and other paraphernalia of the Committee. 

Before the month was over members of the Executive Com- 
mittee began to chafe at the order which forbade them to make 
arrests. They therefore called a General Meeting for October 1, 
at which they recommended the restoration of the power of 
initiative in this respect. ^^ Apparently it was granted and was 
exercised on November 11 when Antonio Gonzales, who had 
engaged in a stabbing affray, was taken to headquarters. The 
committeeman who made the arrest stated that no police officer 
was present and that the bystanders requested him to take charge 
of the offender.^^ Gonzales was immediately handed over to the 
authorities, and except for an obscure allusion to the ^^ arrest of 

7 See Papers, 673. 

8 Papers, 651. 

9 The mirror, found during the June fire, had been advertised without 
success (Papers, Voucher no. 70). The banners are mentioned infra, pp. 
371, 372. 

^0 Papers, 671-673; Alta, 1851, Oct. 2 %. 

11 Papers, 689-692. Noted in Alta, 1851, Nov. 12 %; Herald, Nov. 13 %. 

340 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Handy, "^2 November 16, no other prisoner seems to have been 
in the hands of the Committee until Charles Talbot was arrested 
on the charge of arson, November 25, 1852/^ 

The records for these fourteen months are far less interesting 
and picturesque than those for the earlier periods. From Sep- 
tember 17, 1851, to March 17, 1852, twenty-five regular weekly 
meetings were held, with an average attendance of sixteen.^* 
The meetings, therefore, were not neglected by the members, but 
the minutes indicate that they were devoted to routine business 
and to the effort to raise money, especially the sums needed to 
meet the expenses of the suits instituted by Peter Metcalf. 

One of the first matters that engaged attention was a com- 
munication from the collector of the port, Thomas Butler King, 
to the effect that he had been informed by an American consul 
in France that the French government was preparing to send to 
California a shipload of emigrants, among whom might be a large 
number of desperadoes. The Committee at once appointed a 
delegation to wait upon the resident French consul, M. Dillon, 
and upon the representatives of Marizou & Company, agents for 
the emigrant vessels, to make inquiries relative to the proposed 
expedition. These gentlemen assured the Committee that the 
colonists would include only persons of approved respectability. 
They promised to write to France to warn those interested in the 
venture to take every reasonable precaution and to advise them of 
the "existence of a powerful association styled the Committee of 
Vigilance, who have combined together for the purpose of ridding 
the community of all disreputable characters, and who have the 
determination and the power to carry out their views. "^^ This 

^•i Papers, 704. The Alta, 1851, Nov. 21 %, noted the arrest by the 
Committee of a suspected incendiary, who had been handed over to the 

13 See infra, p. 354. 

14 See Papers, Eoll Call, Appendix C. 
-^z Papers, 651, 662-664. 

The Closing Months 341 

promise was faithfully performed and the responses they received 
appeared as follows in the papers of a later date •}^ 

Paris, Nov. 20th, 1851. 
Messrs. Marziou & Co., 

San Francisco, 


We have today seen Mr. Eeyre, Government Commis- 
sioner, to whom we communicated the information received from you, 
relative to the action of the very honorable, the Committee of A'igilance, 
of your city. He has assured us that the solicitude of the American 
authorities would be completely satisfied through the proper diplomatic 

Among the emigrants there are no criminals . . . and we concur with 
you, in deeming the accession to your new State, of four or five thousand 
industrious operatives ... a subject of congratulation. 

Havre, Nov. 26, 1851. 
You may re-assure the members of the Committee of Vigilance, our 
emigrants are all honest people, emigrating voluntarily, and from whom 
testimonials of character are required before admission to the association. 
An ofiicial communication in regard to this subject will be made to the 
American Minister at Paris, for transmission to his government. 

A thrill of the old-time excitement was experienced on 
October 15, when the Committee heard that Briggs and Osman, 
confederates of Stuart who had eluded arrest, had been seen in 
the city, and were supposed to be on board a vessel clearing for 
Australia. Since rich plunder was loiown to be in their posses- 
sion, a pursuit was hastily organized, the tug Fire Fly pressed 
into service, and a dash made outside the Golden Gate. One or 
two vessels were overhauled, but the fugitives were not found, 
and when her bunkers were empty the Fire Fly returned to port. 
So concluded the last recorded expedition of the water police of 
the Committee of Vigilance.^'" 

16 Alta, 1852, Feb. 10 %i. The expedition was financed by the Societe 
du Lingot d'Or, which held a lottery on Nov. 16, 1851, and distributed as 
prizes the passage money for 5000 emigrants. See also Levy, Les Frangais 
en Calif ornie, 72-74. 

17 Papers, 679, 710, 720, and Voucher no. 95. Among Bancroft 's clip- 
pings is an undated scrap (printed between Aug. 18 and Sept. 8, 1851), 

342 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

About the same time Andrew Goodwin appealed for help in 
recovering his niece, Mary Lye, who had been taken from him 
by people named Kohle, and placed in a house of ill fame at 
]\Iarysville/^ The case was mentioned but briefly in the records 
of the Committee, but it was more fully reported in the news- 
papers. The Herald said : 

Her aged uncle went several times to Marysville, and though very 
poor, expended upwards of $400 in fruitless efforts, through the authori- 
ties and otherwise, to rescue the child. . . . Almost heart-broken by his 
want of success, he . . . applied to the Vigilance Committee for relief. 
A member of that body [Stephen Payran] was alone deputed to proceed 
to Marysville and take the child from those who detained her. Having 
conferred . . . with the Marysville Vigilance Committee — a body that has 
been as efficient as any similar one in the State — accompanied by several 
of its members, he proceeded to the house and demanded the girl. Those 
who detained her were at first very boisterous and very menacing, but 
the threats were disregarded and the child was brought off and restored 
to her delighted relatives. 

Many years later Mr. Payran recalled the incident with satis- 
faction.^^ He said that he had been warned that the roughs of 
Marysville would try to prevent the rescue. Accordingly, after 
he had carried the child in safety to the hotel where he lodged, 
he took the other guests into his confidence, and fifteen or twenty 
miners instantly drew their revolvers and escorted her to the 
boat, where she was guarded until she arrived in San Francisco. 
The little story furnishes one note of tender pathos in all the 
dreary record of crime and punishment. Sketches by unskilled 
hands have delineated the executions of Stuart, Whittaker, and 
McKenzie, but no one has thought of picturing Stephen Payran, 
the enthusiast and idealist, as he braved the guns of the gamblers 

reporting that at some time a hoax was perpetrated on the Committee by 
inducing it to pursue a vessel under the mistaken idea that Briggs was on 

^^ Papers, 676-768; Eerald, 1851, Oct. 16 %, 17 %. 

19 Carpenter 's letter in Oakland Transcript, 1874, March 29 l/i. Ernest 
Kohle wrote a letter of protest, and asked compensation for his care of the 
child. His communication was ''laid on the table" {Papers, 696). 

The Closing Months 343 

to restore a little girl to guardians who were too feeble and too 
poor to accomplish her rescue by their own efforts. 

The incident was Payran's last participation in the work of 
the Committee. On October 27 he resigned again, "owing to the 
cares incident to my business, and the larger active service of our 
Committee being at an end, combined with other causes. "-° 
When requested to state his reasons more fully, he replied in a 
long letter that affords us valuable information on the con- 
dition of the Committee at the time.^^ He pointed out that 
the large salaries of the sergeant-at-arms and the secretary in- 
creased the expenses of rent and incidentals to a minimum of 
$350 a month "without a dollar in the treasury to meet them." 
He condemned the policy that made the Committee, rather than 
individuals, responsible for the costs of the suits instituted by 
Metcalf . That liability then exceeded $2500, with the possibility 
of heavy damages if decision should be made for the plaintiff. 
He also alleged that the constitution and by-laws were so mis- 
interpreted or misunderstood by the officers that the Committee 
was kept in ignorance of the truth and criminals were allowed 
to escape. Conscious of the criticism of his own use of authority, 
he said that he had usually refrained from taking the chair since 
his re-election in September, and now felt that the time had 
arrived for his final resignation. It was accepted, with suitable 
expressions of esteem and regret, and his name appears no more 
upon the records of the Committee, the office of the chairman 
being filled thereafter by the vice-presidents, G. W. Ryckman 
and S. E. Wood worth. 

A curious reversal of the usual relations between the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance and the authorities of San Francisco occurred 
late in October, in connection with an outbreak of public indig- 
nation against the captain and officers of the sloop Challenge as 

20 Papers, 687-688. 

21 Papers, 699-704. 

344 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

a result of charges of brutality during the voyage from New York. 

Crowds of angry sailors and longshoremen collected along the 

water front, demanding Captain Waterman and his mates, and 

threatening to lynch them as soon as they could be found. The 

excitement reached such a dangerous point on October 31 that 

the mayor ordered the bell of the Monumental Engine Company 

to be tapped as a signal to law-abiding citizens to assemble and 

disperse the mob. In obedience to the familiar summons the 

Vigilance Committee gathered at headquarters and sent to the 

chief executive an offer of any assistance he might require. The 

account of the affair in the Alt a of November 1 said that the 

mayor "accepted the services of the Vigilantes, as a body of 

citizens, merely. ' ' The Herald reported that a strong detachment 

of the Committee appeared among the hundreds who responded 

to the call for help. Overawed by the reinforcements rallied 

about the authorities, and placated by promises of thorough 

investigation, the mob finally dispersed.^^ The Alta took occasion 

to say: 

Where now are those who called the Committee a mob — who predicted 
that they would establish riot and ruin in our midst? Where are they 
who mourned over the ruins of the Constitution of the United States, the 
ruins of the laws, of the courts and of all legal forms? . . . Let the events 
answer. The Committee found society in a chaotic state. . . . They formed 
themselves together, conscious of the solemn responsibility which they 
were self-imposing. They seized upon culprits and promptly punished 
them . . . crime shrank before them, and Order sprang from the chaos. 
Having restored security to the (tiij, they yielded their power to the 
regularly constituted authorities, trusting that they would be enabled, 
unassisted, to keep off the floodings of crime. And now the Committee 
are found on the part of the authorities, upholding the law. And they 
will be found there until the courts can no longer afford us protection. 

If the Vigilantes surprised their detractors by assisting the 
constituted authorities in the Waterman affair, the critic of 

22 Farwell described the episode, and felt that it proved that the Com- 
mittee opposed mob violence (MS Statement, 1.1-12). Captain Waterman 
surrendered himself as soon as it was safe. He was tried and fined, in Feb- 
ruary, 1852. 

The Closing Months 345 

today will be scarcely less surprised when he reads of a move- 
ment they were inaugurating at the very date of the riots on the 
water front. G. E. Schenck, who had left San Francisco a few 
weeks earlier, in his note of resignation urged his former asso- 
ciates to use their influence ''for the establishment of schools, 
academies and seminarys of learning and virtue.'"^ Seminaries 
of learning and virtue would appear to be institutions incon- 
gruous with the administration of lynch law, and history does not 
record that the members of the Committee of Vigilance ever 
attempted to found them. They did, however, make a definite 
effort to carry out the spirit of Schenck's suggestion when they 
decided to establish a library as a contribution to the intellectual 
life of San Francisco. Mention of their action in this matter 
does not appear in the minutes or reports. It can be found, 
however, in the papers of the day and in the recollections of 
Isaac Bluxome, Jr., who said:^* 

When the first committee was about to disband, we concluded that we 
would do something for the public at large. A man named Livingston 
suggested that we start a library for the public good, and Charles S. 
Eijenbraugh [Eigenbrodt] seconded the motion. I had a pretty good 
library for a private citizen of some five hundred volumes, which I con- 
tributed. Others did the same, and that is the foundation of the Mercan- 
tile Library of this city. You will find my name in these books there, 
if not pasted over. 

The Herald and the Alta of October 4, 1851, spoke of an 
effort to establish the San Francisco Library and Museum Com- 
pany, and commended the plan proposed as the city had lost its 
only library in the May fire. It was stated that the proposition 
had come from a group of members of the Committee of 
Vigilance who desired to keep up the ties of companionship 
and who proposed to limit the membership of the library asso- 
ciation to those who belonged to the Committee. This limitation 
was regretted by writers in both papers, and it was hinted that 

23 Papers, 635. 

24 Bluxome, MS Statement, 16. 

346 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

it would probably be removed before very long. Some donations 
were recorded from S. E. Woodward [Woodworth], Major Boyd, 
Captain W. A. Howard, and Mr. Shelton, the botanist. It was 
announced that the collection could be inspected in the room 
next to the Committee 's headquarters, under the care of the Com- 
mittee 's librarian. Other donors, it seemed, were reluctant to 
place books in the inflammable structure, and waited until a fire- 
proof building might be secured.-^ The minutes of December 17 
stated that fireproof accommodations were too expensive for 
the use of the Committee at that time.-® Late in November the 
California Institute was organized, with membership open to the 
public on the payment of moderate fees; rooms were secured on 
the south side of Pine Street, betwen Montgomery and Sansome ; 
D. L. Oakley, of the Committee, acted as librarian; S. E. Wood- 
worth was president; and the list of officers and directors was 
made up almost entirely from the roll of the Committee. ^^ 

There is no evidence that this library became an important 
factor in the life of San Francisco. If Bluxome 's statement was 
correct, however, a substantial nucleus of books was transferred 
to the Mercantile Library, founded a year later.^^ Had not the 
fire of 1906 swept away the collection of that association, search 
might now reveal that the earliest volumes in that historic library 
were donated by the men who armed themselves in 1851 to 
execute summary justice upon the murderers and incendiaries 
that threatened the peace of the community. 

25 Alta, 1851, Nov. 22 %. 
^Q Papers, 713. 

27 President, S. E. Woodworth; Vice-Presidents, G. W. Eyckman, A. C. 
Wakeman; Treasurer, Eugene Delessert; Eecording Secretary, J. E. Dungli- 
son; Corresponding Secretary, L. F. Zantzinger; Librarian, D. L. Oakley; 
Directors: G. M. Garwood, H. S. Gates, F. Argenti, F. C. Ewer, J. M. Swift, 
C. B. Lafitte, P. P. Hull, A. B. Stout, Henry Dreshfeldt, J. C. L. Wadsworth, 
Sam'l Taylor, J. S. Ellis, S. E. Gerry, D. J. Thomas, A. M. Macy, D. S. 
Turner, T. J. L. Smiley, L. W. Sloat, E. S. Lammot, A. J. Moulder (Herald, 

1851, Nov. 30 %; Dec. 2 %; 8 %; Alta, Nov. 30 %; Dec. 8 %). All were 
Vigilantes except Dunglison, Zantzinger, and Moulder. 

28 The organization of the Mercantile Library Avas noted in the Herald, 

1852, Dec. 17 %; 23 %; 24 %. 

The Closing Months 347 

Metcalf 's suit was called again in December, and the plaintiff 
then moved for a change of venue upon the following grounds :^^ 

1st, — That an impartial jury cannot be had here, because the defend- 
ants are, or lately were, members of a numerous and powerful body, 
known as the Vigilance Committee, who have recognized the act charged 
upon the defendants as their own, and that the said Committee still 
exercises a controlling influence over the minds and actions of the people 
of this city, adverse to the cause of the affiant. 

Sd, — Because the said defendants and their associates through motives 
of fear or favor, and by means of their power and wealth, control the 
public press of this city and county, and have instigated and prompted 
the same to attack this affiant without provocation and unjustly, but with 
the utmost bitterness and malice, so that the people of this city and 
county are filled with prejudice toward this affiant. 

3d, — That the affiant is a poor laborer, and that defendants are rich 
property holders; and that affiant is an English immigrant, who reached 
here by way of Australia, and is therefore known as a '' Sydney man," 
a class of the population of this city who have been proscribed and 
persecuted by these defendants. 

The case was transferred to the jurisdiction of the District Court 
of Santa Clara and was tried immediately. The result was a 
verdict for the plaintiff, with damages of $201, the lowest sum 
that would permit the jury to allow costs in his favor.^° Met- 
calf at once named Bluxome and others as defendants in another 
suit, which was tried in San Francisco and resulted in the 
nominal verdict of six cents for the plaintiff. The empty victory 
led to the dismissal of still other suits by which he sought to 
continue his action against the Vigilantes.^^ Although many 
references show that these suits laid a heavy tax upon the 

29 Alta, 1851, Dec. 13 %. In the issue of Dec. 22 %, the editor denied 
that the Committee exerted undue influence on the press, asserting that ' ' the 
people who had the courage to sustain the Vigilance Committee, have the 
penetration to see through the film of shallow pretension which envelopes the 
cause." Angelina Duclos sued Metcalf for the recovery of the value of 
her alleged loss, and in the course of that suit Mr. Argenti was arrested on 
a charge of perjurv, but was soon dismissed. Mme. Duelos ultimately 
abandoned her t^se {Eerald, 1851, Dec. 31 %; 1852, Jan. 1 %; 12 %; 
13 %; LockAvood, The Vigilance Committee, 47 note). 

so Herald, and Alta, 1851, Dec. 8. 

31 Papers, 731; Herald, 1852, Feb. 20 %; Alta, May 8 %. 

348 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Committee only one actual payment is recorded — a bill of costs 
amounting to fifty dollars. In June, 1852, a special subscription 
was collected for the fees of counsel employed for the defense.^^ 

Throughout the winter of 1851 to 1852 the Committee con- 
tinued to receive complaints concerning crimes committed in 
San Francisco and elsewhere. Most of them were filed without 
annotation, or were laid on the table. ^^ One was referred to the 
mayor of the city.^* In a few instances investigation was made, 
as in the case of an attack on Captain Ellis, of the Callao, who 
was taken from his vessel by men impersonating Vigilantes, and 
compelled to promise them money in order to save himself from 
instant death. ^^ 

On October 22 a committee of five was appointed ''to inquire 
into the acts of the various judges on the bench," but its mem- 
bers made no reports of any ir^portance.^^ In fact, the larger 
part of the attention of the Committee was occupied with the 
ever pressing question of financial ways and means. 

A short time prior to the reorganization there had been a 
deficit of $1296.56.^'^ By strenuous efforts this condition was 
improved, and on October 2 the Finance Committee reported 
that with a few exceptions all claims had been settled up to 
September 16, and that a small balance remained on hand.^® 
This happy state of things did not long continue ; the liabilities 
of the association soon again exceeded its assets. 

On December 10 the city was divided into collection districts 
and canvassed for subscriptions by members of the Committee. 

32 See Papers, 748, Voucher no. 63, and Index under ^'Metcalf. " 

33 Papers, 696-699, 705, 706, 708-710, 719. 
3^ Papers, 708. 

35 Papers, 713-716; Alta, 1851, Dec. 18 %; 19 %; 22 %; Picayune, 
Dec. 20 % ; Holinski, La Calif ornie, 129. 

36 Papers, 680. 
ST Papers, 767. 

38 Papers, 675. This probably did not include expenses in the Metcalf 
suit. Treasurer Delessert offered to advance $1000 for two months, without 
interest, but it does not appear that the loan was accepted (ibid., 651-652, 

The Closing Months 349 

Two of these collectors, George R. Ward and T. J. L. Smiley, 
received the thanks of the society, January 28, for the three 
hundred dollars they had secured and for '^ their untiring efforts 
to rid the Committee of Vigilance from debt. ' '^^ An attempt was 
also made to raise money by the sale of engraved certificates of 
membership at five dollars each. The simple design showed some 
artistic skill. It bore several mottoes that expressed the senti- 
ments of the members: *'Fiat justitia ruat Coelum." "Be just 
and fear not." " Self -Preservation the first law of nature." It 
showed, also, the scales of justice and the Lictor's rods, sur- 
mounted by the open eye that was always the favorite insignia 
of the Vigilantes. 

The books of the treasurer report ninety dollars raised from 
the sale of these certificates before March, 1852. In that month 
it w^as voted to make the purchase of certificates compulsory, an 
action which resulted in the sale of seventeen more during the 
ensuing weeks.*° 

The news items of the daily papers and their reports of 
court proceedings showed a constant fluctuation in the amount 
of crime. The worst of the Sydney men had undoubtedly been 
driven aw^ay through the action of the Committee, and their 
disappearance was a blessing. Other undesirables soon departed 
for the gold fields of Australia. The Herald of September 21 
remarked that the city was far less dangerous at night, and 
that there was no quarter where it was unsafe for a peaceable 

39 Papers, 712, 722. 

40 See Papers, Frontispiece, and pp. 711, 734, 762. The AUa, 1852, 
Jan. 23 %, described the certificate and said that its use indicated that the 
Committee would continue its vigilance as long as society was left at the 
mercj of criminals. The following notice appeared in the Herald, Jan. 

'^ Committee of Vigilance. The Members of the Committee of 
Vigilance of San Francisco, are hereby notified that their certificates 
of membership are now ready, and the Secretary will be in attendance, 
at the Chambers of the Committee, corner of Sacramento and Saji- 
some, to deliver the same, every day, between the hours of 12 and 
2 'clock. p^^ ^^.^-jg^ ^^ ^^^ Executive Committee, 

Isaac Bluxome, Jr., Secy." 

350 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

citizen to go about his business.^^ On the next day the editor 
spoke with complacency of the increasing stability of society 
and of the influx from the East of families that intended to 
make their permanent home in California. In the issue of 
September 28 a long article signed by ''Justice" defended the 
acts of the Committee against current attack in the Morning 
Post, likened its protest against inefficient laws to the historic 
protests of Revolutionary patriots, and asserted that crime and 
violence had almost disappeared as a result of its labors. The 
grand jury, reporting for the September term, corroborated this 
optimistic view and mentioned the marked diminution of crime.*- 
A few days later the Herald told of a daring burglary and a 
shocking murder, ''perhaps due to temporary suspension of the 
police regulations of the Vigilance Committee."*^ Not long after 
it admitted that there was a slight increase of crime in the city 
and state. ^^ By this time popular interest in humdrum trials had 
noticeably abated. Jury service was evaded so persistently that 
a sharp editorial in the Alta pointed out that such a shirking 
of the duties of citizenship would inevitably result in a revival 
of the activities of the Committee of Vigilance.*^ 

Since the rainy winter months, as usual, drove to San Fran- 
cisco many rough characters from the mining regions it was not 
strange that crimes increased during that season. The papers 
again had cause to complain of robberies, fires, and murders. It 
was feared that another criminal gang had been organized, and 
to add to the confusion seventeen desperate men escaped from 
the prison brig, where they were confined while working for a 
private contractor.^*^ A correspondent in the Alta prophesied 

^i Herald, 1851, Sept. 21 %. 

^^ Herald, 1851, Sept. 30 %; Oct. 1 %- 

^3 Herald, 1851, Oct. 11 %. See also Oct. 14 %', ^^^a, Oct. 19 %. 

^i Herald, 1851, Nov. 15 %; 18 %; 20 2/,- 21 %; 27 ^o; 28%; Dec. 1 1^. 

45 Alta, 1851, Nov. 10 %. 

46 See supra, p. 290; and Alta, 1852, Jan. 21 %; 25 %; Herald, Jan. 29 %; 
Feb. 18 %; 28 %; 29 %. The existing clangers led to the formation of a 
special police force, paid by individuals, but under the control of the city 
authorities {Herald, March 2 %, April 19 %). 

The Closing Months 351 

that a continuation of existing conditions would necessitate ''the 
same steps as were formerly taken by that much abused, but 
noble band of men, the Vigilance Committee, who devoted their 
time, money, and if need be their lives for the protection of 
society. ' '"^^ 

In the meantime the Committee attempted little interference 
in public affairs. Its quiescence may have arisen from the fact 
that most of the tragedies in the cit}^ and in the state at large 
were attributed to sudden passion rather than to such deliberate 
intention as had signalized the operations of James Stuart and 
his confederates.*^ But the members felt the necessity of con- 
tinuing their association for the time being, and when on Janu- 
ary 14, 1852, T. J. L. Smiley, one of the most faithful attendants, 
proposed an adjournment si7ie die, the motion w^as laid on the 
table.*'' On February 4 the office of sergeant-at-arms was abol- 
ished f^ on March 13 it was voted to discontinue the salary of the 
secretary. ^^ 

March 17 was the end of the six-month term of the reorgan- 
ized Executive Committee. Pursuant to a notice in the press 
over three hundred Vigilantes assembled at the old headquarters 
on Battery Street to elect new representatives.^^ It was reported 
in the papers that the increase of crime in the city had roused 
the Committee to renewed activities; and the minutes and the 
new roll call showed that fresh interest was awakened. "Wlien 
the new Executive Committee met for organization^^ G. W. 
Ryckman was elected president, S. E. Woodworth and Eugene 

47 AUa, 1852, Jan. 25 %. 

^8 Herald, 1852, Jan. 16 %; March 30 %. ''Even when homicides were 
most frequent, the great majority of the people were secure in their lives 
and property; but the percentage of deaths was large among the gamblers, 
drunkards, holders of disputed land claims, thieves and borderers" (J. S. 
Hittell, Resources of California, 32). 

49 Papers, 720. 

50 Papers, 724. 
5^ Papers, 733. 

52 Papers, 732-735 ; Herald, 1852, March 17 % ; 18 %. 

53 Papers, 738-740. 

352 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Delessert vice-presidents, and G. R. "Ward treasurer, Delessert 
having resigned that office in anticipation of a trip to Europe. ^"^ 
Isaac Bluxome, Jr. continued to act as secretary, in spite of a 
resignation dated April 7.^^ The Executive Committee attempted 
to maintain the habit of weekly meetings, but the minutes give 
evidence of no action of any importance although conditions in 
San Francisco grew steadily worse. 

Early in IMay it was voted to renew the volunteer patrol of the 
city,^*^ and the following notice appeared in the Herald on several 
days from ]\Iay 5 to 21 : 

Vigilance Committee attention! At a special meeting of the Executive 
Committee, held at their Chambers last evening, the following recom- 
mendations were directed to be promulgated through the public prints: 

All members of the "General Committee of Vigilance" are requested 
to assemble in the respective wards in which they reside, and form them- 
selves into a "Night Patrol." From information received by the Execu- 
tive Committee, they have every reason to believe that there yet exists 
within the limits of our city an organized band of thieves and incendi- 
aries, who have within a few days past made several ineffectual attempts 
to fire the city, and the Executive Committee believe our strict observ- 
ance of vigilance may prevent the evil by an early detection of the fire, 
should it be the result of accident or design. 

Information of an important nature will be communicated to the 
members of the different Ward Committees, authorized to receive the same 
by the Executive Committee, which will continue always in session. 

Selim E. Woodworth, Pres. 

The Herald stated that the public was convinced of the 
existence of a band of miscreants, and that in consequence of 
information to that effect the General Committee of Vigilance 
would resume weekly meetings during May and June."" Notices 
appeared in the papers, but minutes are preserved for onlj^ one 
meeting of the General Committee, on May 12, and for meetings 
of the Executive Committee on ]\Iay 5, May 26, and June 30.^^ 
The room for permanent headquarters was given up in May. 

54 Papers, 734-735. 

55 Papers, 742. 

56 Papers, 746. 

^T Herald, 1852, May 7 %; 12 %; Papers, 744 note. 
58 Papers, 743-748. 

The Closing Months 353 

AYhen the anniversary of the organization of the Committee 
drew near, it was suggested that the day, June 9, should be cele- 
brated by a dinner,^^ but no other mention of such a banquet 
was made in the records or in the reminiscences of the members. 

As one reviews the year of strenuous work, of defiance of 
law, of popular approval, and of ever increasing financial bur- 
dens, one is inclined to invert a phrase dear to American orators, 
and to assert that if taxation without representation is tyranny, 
the experience of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance goes 
far towards proving that representation without taxation is 


The last financial experiment of the Vigilantes accented with 
grotesque humor the straits to which they were reduced. On 
April 2 it was voted to arrange a dramatic benefit for the pur- 
pose of raising funds, three leading members, Selim E. Wood- 
worth, Eugene Delessert, and W. A. Howard, being appointed a 
committee of arrangement.^^ Several members of the theatrical 
profession immediately volunteered their services, among them 
Madame Eleanore, who was playing at the French Theatre, and 
the Committee returned its thanks in polite French for her 
kind offer.^^ For unrecorded reasons the project was pushed no 
further, and we are fortunately spared the vision of the curtain 
of history descending upon the Committee of Vigilance amid the 
glitter of footlights and the clatter of perfunctory applause. 

For the curtain is about to descend! The entries in the 
Minute Book of the Executive Committee close June 30. For 
several months there are no recorded activities, and it may 
be that the summer movement to the mines brought about a 
slight improvement in local affairs. Early in the fall the old 
apprehension of incendiaries recurred, and the editor of the 
Herald wrote for the warning of such outlaws: ''The Vigilance 

5Q Papers, 746. 
60 Papers, 739. 
Qi Papers, 743. 

354 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Committee is not dead — it only sleeps, and woe to those whose 
rascality calls it into action again ! "^^ 

The sleeping guardian roused itself to momentary vigor in 
November, when a meeting of the General Committee was called 
for the nineteenth, although no minutes have been preserved.^^ 
On the twenty-sixth the Executive Committee met and elected 
officers, and even discussed hiring new headquarters, since the 
building occupied in the spring had been demolished. It was 
decided, however, to ask hospitality from the fire engine com- 
panies and to avoid the expense of permanent chambers. 
Minutes of that meeting are preserved in a rough draft,*'* and 
with them is filed a brief memorandum of the examination of 
Charles Talbot, who had been arrested the day before by S. E. 
Woodworth on suspicion of arson, and who was probably released 
without delay. No later archives reveal the secret bonds that 
continued to unite the brotherhood of the Vigilantes, although 
every man in California knew that those bonds had not been 
severed. For a time the continued existence of the Committee 
was indicated by the publication of two brief notices which 
appeared at frequent intervals in the Herald and the Alta, from 
November 24, 1852, to January 20, 1853 : 

Committee of Vigilance. — The citizens of the city of San Francisco 

are requested to furnish to the Committee of Vigilance such information 

as they may have that will lead to the detection or arrest of any person 

that has committed, or attempted to commit the crimes of Arson, Burglary 

or Highway Bohbery. 

Isaac Bluxome Jr., Secretary. 

Committee of Vigilance. — $2,000 Reward 

will be given by the Committee of Vigilance of the city of San Francisco 

for the arrest, with sufficient testimony for conviction, of any person 

setting fire to any building in San Francisco. By order of the Committee, 

Selim E. Woodworth, President, 
Isaac Bluxome Jr., Secretary. 

62 Herald, 1852, Oct. 28 %- 

e^ Herald, 1852, Nov. 17 ^; Papers, 748-749 note. The meeting was 
called to adopt measures for the suppression of crime {Herald, Nov. 19 %). 
&* Papers, 748-749. 

The Closing Months 355 

At some time after that date a further reorganization was 
effected, relieving from duty all of the members except a Com- 
mittee of Thirteen, which was entrusted with the obligation of 
keeping alive the spirit of vigilance and of summoning the 
general body should the need arise. No press notices of this 
change and no further calls for meetings have come to the 
attention of the writer in searching through the files of the 
Herald and the Alta for the succeeding three years.^^ The 
association of the Vigilantes never formally dissolved. Ger- 
stacker reported that the members had pledged themselves to a 
service of fifty years, and George E. Schenck wrote: ''Once a 
Committeeman, always a Committeeman, according to the by- 
laws. "^^ In 1853 the organization silently disappeared from 
local attention, but it was the current conviction of the com- 
munity that although the Committee of Vigilance was shrouded 
in silence and secrecy, it was prepared to re-establish its dreaded 
tribunal whenever a public emergency should move the people 
to summon it from obscurity.®' 

65 Tuthill said that sometime in 1853 there was published a call for a 
meeting of the Executive Committee {California, 461). Mention of a 
recent meeting was made in the Democratic State Journal, 1853, March 7 
%; Alta, March 13 %. 

66 F. W. C. Gerstacker, Narrative of a Journey round the World, 1853, 
p. 253; Schenck, MS Statement, 52. ''At the end it [the Committee] 
adjourned, to be called together on any occasion when it might be required" 
Eyckman, MS Statement, 20). 

67 ' ' The Vigilance Committee has long ceased to act, but the association 
has never formally dissolved. The original members are doubtless ready, 
if ever an occasion should require, again to assert the right of self-preserva- 
tion, and the supremacy of natural law over defective civil rule" (Annals, 
1855, p. 587). ''Crime, since the organization of the Committee, has de- 
creased one half, and they have now ceased to make arrests, leaving all to 
the jurisdiction of the proper authorities. They, however, maintain their 
organization, and would, no doubt, act in case of emergency" Calif orrda 
Illustrated [by Letts], 55). 


The previous chapters have recounted the history of the 
Committee of Vigilance in its chronological development, reserv- 
ing for special discussion various aspects of its work which 
require a grouping of episodes that were separated by intervals 
of time but related by logical connection. Certain useful sum- 
maries may be made from the records of the cases considered by 
the Committee, and from the. receipt and expenditure of funds. 
Interesting deductions as to the spirit of the members may be 
formed by reviewing as a whole their relations to their prisoners, 
to each other, and to the general public. And finally, before 
the study is brought to a conclusion, it will be pertinent to ask 
what influences the work of the Committee may have exerted in 
San Francisco, in California, and in the country at large. 

The relations that existed between the Committee and its 
prisoners are indicated not only by the general reports on the 
conduct of cases, but by brief allusions scattered through the 
minutes and miscellaneous papers.^ 

In the matter of providing for the physical necessities of those 
in confinement, the arrangements were very primitive. The 
inventories suggest that the prisoners' room was furnished with 
benches, straw mattresses, and blankets.- No information is 
given of the accommodations provided for women prisoners, in 
spite of the fact that several women were detained for brief 
periods.^ Mrs. Hogan was probably in custody for a few days, 

1 See Papers. Index under ' ' C. of V. — Eelations with prisoners. ' ' 

2 Papers, 654. 

3 See Papers, 420, 502, 574-575. 

Problems and Methods of Admimstration 357 

and so was Mrs. Robinson, charged with arson. On August 30 
the wives of Eobert Ogden and Joseph Turner were named among 
the prisoners. So was Jane Connolly, widow of the innkeeper, 
former friend of Jenkins and Burns, and later wife of one 
Martin Sanphy, who unkindly accused her of robbing him of 
twelve hundred dollars. Emma Jones, a Sydney immigrant, was 
held for deportation. But the personal experiences of the arrested 
women are unnoted alike in any of the records, in the papers of 
the day, or in the reminiscences of members. 

The cost of maintaining the prisoners was a great burden on 
the overtaxed exchequer. One or two who had the means paid 
board while in confinement, but the others were fed at the expense 
of their jailers. Members of the Committees of 1851 and 1856 
have told me that both Committees ordered the food of the 
prisoners from neighboring restaurants. The cavsh accounts for 
1851 do not determine this point exactly, but they show that sums 
were expended for foodstuffs, such as cheese, crackers, and coffee, 
and also for refreshments purchased from hotels and eating- 
houses.* When all is said that can be gathered from the records, 
we simply know that the men under arrest were lodged and fed 
— their treatment was surely no worse, perhaps it was better than 
that accorded to prisoners in the city lockup.^ 

More definite information can be gained of the methods 
employed in the course of the criminal investigations and 
prosecutions. *'It is the . . . intention of this Committee of 
Vigilance to act in such a way as to obtain the sanction of this 
community for each and every one of the steps it takes.'' So 
wrote Mr. James C. Ward on June 15, 1851, in a resolution 
which urged the Committee to act with circumspection in 

4 See Papers, 442, 502, 625, 764, Appendix D, p. 824. I discussed the 
subject of provisions with Mr. Duff, of the Committee of 1851, and Mr. E. P. 
Flint, of 1856. 

5 It was ordered that the prisoners and their room should be scrubbed 
every week. A doctor attended cases of illness {Papers, 408, 409). 

358 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

proceeding against Burns and Hetherington.^ George Gibson, 
advising caution in a different matter, declared that he felt 
''the awful character of our responsibilities."^ The sentiments 
expressed thus early in the life of the Committee were never 
forgotten in the excitement of the days that followed. The 
execution of John Jenkins had been summary in the extreme, but 
after that night no action of any apparent importance was under- 
taken without painstaking investigation and deliberation. As in 
the cases of Burns and Hetherington, witnesses were summoned 
not only for the prosecution, but also at the request of the 
defense, and the thoroughness with which the Committee sought 
to sift evidence is proved by the preservation of verbatim state- 
ments made by nearly one hundred and fifty witnesses, and of 
written communications sent by many others. It is true that 
the technical evasions permitted by legal procedure were denied 
the prisoners of the Committee; no doubtful alibi was con- 
sidered in their favor. But from the first it was the custom to 
confront the accused with the witnesses in his case, and it was 
one of the rules of the association that no sentence should be 
pronounced until he had appeared in person to plead in his own 

The results of the policy of cautious investigation have been 
shown in the case of the Negro, Ben, whose false arraignment of 
Mrs. Robinson was so carefully sifted that it disclosed the plot 
designed to lead the Committee into extreme measures against a 
woman of open and well-known depravity. Again in the case of 
Church, the horse thief and deserter whose superior officer urged 
death as a just penalty for crimes against the public welfare, 
the Committee preferred to return their prisoner to the military 
authorities. The deliver}^ to the authorities of Adams, Jimmy 

^Papers, 43. The unsigned report is in Ward's handwriting. 
7 Papers, 61. 
& Papers, 197. 

Frdhlems and MetJiods of Administration 359 

from Town, and Hamilton Taft, and the discharge of Jenks, are 
further instances of the self-control that dominated the leaders 
of the Committee. The same qualit}^ is further illustrated by the 
vote to lay on the table a motion to seize and hang the incendiary 
Lewis if he should be convicted of arson in his legal trial. ^ 

Justice to the Committee forces the acknowledgment of its 
habitual self-control, and of its inclination towards mercy in 
doubtful cases. It was inevitable, however, that the methods 
necessary in the prosecution of its work entailed hardship, and 
in some cases real suffering upon the men w^ho came under its 
suspicion. Read, for example, the complaint of the excitable 
Frenchman, Victor de Gray, an acquaintance of the Robinsons, 
who was ''taken with violence and rudeness" and compelled to 
accompany the Committee as if a prisoner, w^as detained as a 
witness, and discharged only after his feelings and reputation 
w^ere so damaged that he petitioned for a certificate that should 
exonerate him of suspicion, and for funds to enable him to 
depart from the scene of his humiliation. ^° 

The case of Theodore Dahlgren is another illustration of the 
misfortunes of an innocent man. On the accusation of ]\Ir. 
Tennant, a dealer in nautical instruments, he was summoned to 
headquarters to clear himself of the charge of stealing a sextant. 
When he refused to obey, his personal property was seized and 
held as a sort of bail, and as soon as possible he himself was 
taken into custody. After a period of confinement he was 
honorably discharged and his property restored, although his 
acknowledgement of its return indicated that some articles were 
still missing. Dahlgren 's sensitive soul w^as torn with grief 
at these discreditable suspicions, and his letters were almost 
ludicrous in their hysterical protests. Yet the intentions of his 
jailers w^ere so evidently fair, and their consideration of his case 

^Papers, 328. 

10 Papers, 117, 177, 204, 210-212. 

360 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

was so impartial that after his release he sent them a friendly 
letter and printed in the papers the following tribute to their 
integrity :^^ 

To the Public — I was recently ordered to appear before the Committee 
of Vigilance on the charge of being a ' ' notorious thief and swindler. ' ' 
Said charge has been inquired into and I have been honorably released. 
I merely wish thus voluntarily to say that I admit to the fullest extent 
the propriety of their action in my case, and that their course towards 
me has been marked by perfect courtesy, impartiality, and kind feeling, 
and that although the fact of my having come within the cognizance of 
the ''Committee of Vigilance" might probably injure me, yet I fully 
admit their right to act as they have done, and consider that all good 
citizens should aid them in their endeavors to ensure security of life and 
property. This is especially intended to reply to an inquiry made to me 
to know if I was desirous of prosecuting them for their course towards me. 
I thus reply. 

Th. Dahlgren. 

Another prisoner, William Wilson, was confined for a time 
under suspicions that are not definitely formulated in the records, 
and his friends feared for his health and for his reason under 
the strain and humiliation of his incarceration.^- And for many 
others who like Dahlgren and Wilson were finally discharged, 
the days or weeks of detention in the poorly equipped prisoners' 
room must have engendered a mood of desperation. A glimpse 
of such a mood was given in letters which John Arentrue wrote 
in the hope of invoking help from friends whom he desired to 
call as witnesses. Arentrue, formerly a street commissioner in 
San Francisco, had been named by Joseph Hetherington as an 
accomplice of Stuart. After that statement had appeared in the 
papers, he published an indignant denial of the charge and com- 
plained that he had been refused all opportunity to refute it 
before the Committee. ^^ He was later arrested by the Vigilantes 

^'^ Herald, 1851, July 11 %. See also Papers, Index under ''Dahlgren. 

^2 Papers, 587-588. 

'^^ Alta, 1851, July 24 %. See also Papers, Index under "Arentrue." 

Problems and Methods of Admimstration 361 

on suspicion of murder, and while he acknowledged that he was 
''treated very handsomely by the gentlemen in whose hands" he 
had fallen, he complained that he had great difficulty in com- 
municating with outside acquaintances, and was fearful of a 
conviction that might forfeit his life. It was always claimed by 
members of the Committee that prisoners were aided in securing 
whatever evidence they desired to present, and the large number 
of discharges justifies the inference that ample means were pro- 
vided for defense. But the letters of Arentrue, at least, were not 
dispatched to their destination— perhaps because it was decided 
to relinquish him to the authorities for a trial where he would 
have the benefit of counsel. 

The records show that ninety-one prisoners were under arrest 
by the Committee of Vigilance. It is probable that this number 
does not include all the immigrants forbidden to land in San 
Francisco, or all the petty offenders who were turned over to 
the authorities,^^ although it is unlikely that any large number 
entirely escaped mention, either in the minutes or in the reports 
of subcommittees. It is possible to discover very exactly the 
indictments made against most of these ninety-one prisoners, to 
trace the course of their trials, and to determine their ultimate 
fate. Twenty-five were accused of being ex-convicts from 
Australia, thirty-one were charged with larceny of a more or 
less serious nature, nine with murder, five with keeping dis- 
reputable lodging houses, five with arson, three with horse steal- 
ing, and thirteen with a variety of crimes, from murderous 
assault to being, in general, a ''bad man.''^^ Against some there 
was an array of charges, as in the case of Stuart, who was ex- 
convict, thief, and murderer, and who, for the purposes of this 
classification is listed only as murderer. 

14 For example, a suspected murderer was arrested by the Committee and 
sent to Stockton, and a fugitive from the San Francisco jail was captured 
and returned (California Courier, 1851, July 19 %). 

15 See Papers, ' ' List of Prisoners, ' ' Appendix E. 

362 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Of these ninety-one prisoners, the Committee hanged four; 
whipped one; deported fourteen under direct supervision; 
ordered fourteen more to leave California at their own expense 
and on their own parole, with a threat of execution if they dis- 
obeyed;^^ delivered fifteen to the authorities for legal trial; and 
discharged forty-one. The disposition made of two others is 
not noted, but they were probably discharged. As a matter of 
fact, punishment was enforced only upon those hanged, those 
deported under supervision, and upon the one thief who was 
whipped, a total of nineteen. It is not certain that all, or most, of 
the Australians ordered to leave California did so ; on the other 
hand, there were others who departed hurriedly without risking 
discipline at the hands of the Vigilantes.^^ 

In carrying out the sentences imposed by the Committee, it 
seems that due attention was paid to the ordinary dictates of 
humanity. The illness of Mrs. Goff, for instance, whose husband 
was under orders to leave California by a specified date, secured 
for her family an extension of time.^^ Valuables found upon the 
persons of prisoners were guarded and restored at the time of 
departure, and business affairs were adjusted for several who 
were deported under supervision of the Committee. ^^ Food and 
blankets were provided for those whe were unable to purchase 
supplies for the voyage to Sydney.^^ 

However one may be inclined to judge the actions of the 
Committee, the record of its dealings with prisoners is a most 
significant indication of the aims, methods, and temper of its 

16 Coleman said that about thirty people were banished (MS Statement, 
24), but Bluxome, speaking with apparent exaggeration, said: ''I suppose 
we sent back . . . some three to five hundred at different times" (MS State- 
ment, 15). The Herald, 1851, Oct. 17 %, stated that fifty-three had been 
sent away. There are bills for the passage of several {Papers, Voucher no. 5, 
p. 772, and nos. 35, 43). 

17 Papers, 84, 124, 132, 279. 
^» Papers, 195. 

19 See Papers, Index under ' ' Receipts for effects, ' ' and supra, p. 232. 

20 Papers, 338, 625. 

Problems and Methods of Admdnistration 363 

members. Arrogating to themselves, as they did, the power of 
life and death and the right to lay hands on any man or woman, 
they were far more merciful to the majority of their prisoners 
than the courts might have been if juries had strictly interpreted 
the existing statutes. Whipping could be inflicted for petty 
larceny, but of all the petty thieves that came before them the 
Vigilantes whipped but one. Grand larceny, highway robbery, 
and horse stealing were liable to capital punishment in the state 
of California. There was clear proof that certain prisoners of the 
Committee were guilt}^ of such crimes, but wdth four exceptions 
they were turned over to the authorities and given a chance to 
fight for their lives in legal trials.^^ Cutler said that vigilance 
committees almost invariably incline to ready conviction and 
severe punishments.-- As the Committee of 1851 discharged out- 
right over forty-four per cent of its prisoners, its record deserves 
a place by itself in the annals of popular tribunals. 

The records reporting the dealings of the Committee of Vigi- 
lance with its prisoners constitute the larger part of the seven 
hundred and fifty pages of the Blinutes and Miscellaneous Papers. 
Another important source of information is to be found in the 
papers of the treasurers, which fill fifty more pages in the volume 
of documents."^ Some reference has been made to them in speak- 
ing of the financial difficulties of the organization. They will 
repay more extended study not only for their statistical value, 
but also for the light they throw on the methods of the Com- 
mittee and on local conditions in San Francisco. 

During the early days of the Committee the sergeant-at-arms 
collected and distributed funds without strict supervision from 
any ranking officer or committee. He kept a cashbook, of which 
only a fragment has been preserved. His vouchers, also, are far 
from complete, so that his accounts show^ an expenditure of 

21 The outcome of some of the legal trials is noted in the Papers, 825- 

22 Cutler, Lynch-Law, 135. 23 See Papers, 752-805. 

364 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

$575.58 for which items cannot be assigned.^* On and after 
June 19, 1851, he was directed to pay funds into the hands of 
the treasurer, and to contract no expenses without the sanction 
of the Finance Committee.-^ 

The papers of the treasurers are in more satisfactory con- 
dition. J. W. Salmon presented a single report on July 7, 1851, 
when he turned his work over to Eugene Delessert, who acted as 
treasurer until April 1, 1852. Delessert kept all his papers in a 
file separate from that of the secretary. His accounts were based 
upon the items of one hundred and three receipted bills, which are 
now carefully arranged in bundles and numbered consecutively. 
As the numbering of these vouchers often ignored sequence of 
date for a classification by subject, it is the opinion of the writer 
that Delessert arranged them just prior to his resignation and 
then copied them in serial order into his cashbook. This theory 
is sustained by the uniformity of the handwriting in the book 
and by the fact that the footings of the pages were merely carried 
forward, without balances, until near the end of his term, when 
his successor, George R. Ward, audited the accounts. If such 
were his methods he risked inaccuracies that might have been 
avoided by more frequent balances, in fact a checking of his 
figures discloses an error of $100 in the addition of one column 
of receipts, a possible duplication of entries for liquors, amount- 
ing to $58, and another for the salary of the sergeant-at-arms, 
amoimting to $280. 2*^ George R. "Ward approved the final 
accounts so that it is probable that they were understood at the 
time. It is only necessary to call attention to these features of 
the financial documents in order to caution the reader that their 
accuracy cannot be regarded as absolutely above question. 

24 See Papers, 764, 765, 800-805. The fragment of McDuffee's cash 
book has not been printed. 

25 Papers, 60, 91. 

26 See Papers, 822 note. Delessert also made an error of one dollar in 
adding expenses, p. 757. 

ProUems and Methods of Administratimi 365 

From April 5 to November 24, 1852, the book was continued in 
Mr. Ward's handwriting. The receipts there recorded amounted 
to only $310 and the account was closed by some confused figures 
which apparently reported total receipts of $340. 

Taken as a whole, the pages of ''Financial Accounts and 
Vouchers" show the care exercised to provide safeguards against 
irregularities and carelessness, for except in the earlier vouchers 
of McDuffee the approval of two or three members of the Finance 
Committee was signed across nearly every bill that might involve 
questions of accuracy or of expediency. In preparing the docu- 
ments for publication it seemed advisable to make a classified 
analysis of expenses as a guide to any student who might care 
to note the prices current in California in 1851. That table 
appears in Appendix D of the Papers, but a summary will be 
interesting here since it gives a valuable clue to many of the 
activities of the Committee. 

Classification of Expenses of the Committee of Vigilance 

Sept. 17, 1851, 
June 9 to to June 17, 

Sept. 17, 1851 1852 Total 

Eent $1,100.00 $425.00 $1,525.00 

Salary: Sergeant-at-arms 484.00 1,097.11 

Secretary 300.00 

Porter 257.00 2,138.11 

Headquarters: Labor, equipment, ^. . o. 

stationery, lights 1,500.00 414.84 1,914.84 

Advertising 280.00 62.75 342.7o 

Water police 1,317.24 125.00 1'442.24 

Travel and pursuit of criminals 848.25 ^t?*^5 

Livery 231.00 231.00 

Passage of convicts 425.00 425.00 

Liquor: at headquarters .- 152.50 

on Adirondack 40.00 192.50 

Liquor or refreshments 298.00 298.00 

Refreshments 132.71 132.^ 

Cigars 19.50 19.o0 

Sundry 201.75 443.70 645.45 

Unitemized balance 520.5"8 ^20.58 

$7,807.53 $2,868.40 $10,675.93 

366 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

This segregation of expenses shows at a glance the cost of 
headquarters and of salaries. The vouchers for these groups 
of expenditures are indicated by number in the Appendix to 
the Papers. They show, for instance, that lumber sold at the 
rate of five and a half cents a foot, while carpenters ' wages were 
$10 a day.-' George, the porter or servant at headquarters, 
received only $100 a month, with $3.50 for extra days. At the 
termination of his engagement, when his pay was $137.50 in 
arrears, he annotated his final receipt with the querulous com- 
plaint, ''Paid me only 137 Dollars. "^^ 

The amount spent for advertising is a proof of the many 
notices issued through the Herald, the Alta, the Courier, the 
Picayune, and the Pacific Star; even the Morning Post, in spite 
of an unfriendly attitude, served as a medium of communication 
between the Committee and the public at large. The time and 
place of meetings were often matters of general knowledge, and 
the names of president and secretary were frequently subscribed 
to official notices. 

Traveling expenses and the pursuit of criminals cost the Com- 
mittee $848. The itemized account of the expenses of one expedi- 
tion included steamer fees and hotel bills for a party of three 
for several days, and showed charges surprisingly moderate 
for those early times.-^ 

It is little wonder that the bills of the water police were paid 
under protest ! A single statement presented by Captain Water- 
man, possibly for service following the fire of June 22, called for 
$479. Another, in July, was for $192.^0 The total cost of boats 
and boatmen amounted to $1317. 

27 Papers, Voucher no. 27. 

28 Papers, Voucher no. 54. 

29 Papers, Voucher no. 10, p. 773. 

39 Papers, Vouchers no. 6, p. 770, no. 4, p. 771. See also Vouchers nos. 

Problems and Methods of Administration 367 

One group of bills furnishes an interesting light on the morale 
of the Committee. During the early days of the association, 
while the sergeant-at-arms had a free hand, liquor to the amount 
of $150 was purchased for headquarters. The committee that 
examined the passengers on board the Adirondack was furnished 
with gin and brandy that cost $40 and cigars that cost $18.=^^ On 
July 2 a resolution of the General Committee ruled that in 
future no spiritous liquor should be introduced into headquarters. 
Stimulants, if needed, were to be served only in the form of hot 
coffee. ^^ After the adoption of this motion there was a bill for 
a case of claret and for three gallons of "alcohol." These 
contraband articles were bought by ]\IcDuffee on July 31. For 
some reason ignored in the records, the sergeant-at-arms was 
officially censured by vote of the Executive Committee a few 
days later, and was asked to tender his resignation. He was 
allowed to continue in office only after promising to "abstain in 
future from the faults complained of." He finally gave up his 
position on August 29. No further purchase of liquor appeared 
among the vouchers. ^^ Refreshments amounting to nearly $300 
were furnished from time to time by the Pioneer Club and the 
Oriental Hotel. A part of these charges may have been for 
drink, although the legitimate expense of feeding prisoners was 
undoubtedly large. We find, therefore, that in the first six weeks 
of its work the Committee expended over $200 on liquor but 
made almost no official purchases of that kind after July 25. It 
was a time when intoxicants were consumed in enormous quanti- 
ties in California, but whatever may have been the personal habits 
of individual committeemen, the records show that dissipation 
was frowned upon by the Committee as a whole and that the 
convivial tendencies displayed by Mr. Andrew Jackson McDuffee 
were sternly checked by his fellow Vigilantes. 

31 Papers, Vouchers nos. 14, 21, 57, 58, 111. 

52 Papers, 339. 

33 See Papers, Voucher no. 101, and pp. 418, 571. 

368 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Of one thing we may be very sure : The hundreds of pages 
preserved in the archives of the Committee were not written by 
men habitually under the influence of liquor. Their very faults 
of composition, spelling, and punctuation show that they are not 
revised copies prepared for public inspection, and every hasty line 
gives evidence of the alert brain and the steady hand that directed 
the pen of the scribe. And this may be the place to emphasize the 
fact that these papers are clean — not only from the standpoint of 
a student of documents, but also from the standpoint of one who 
would judge the authors themselves by their reactions under such 
unusual circumstances. They dealt with the daily life of men 
and women who defied all restraints of decency, but the papers 
are never indecent. The few sentences expurgated before publi- 
cation were consigned to oblivion only because their expressions 
were unnecessarily crude and startling in presenting certain facts 
that were fully established elsewhere. While it may have been 
necessary to check, by resolution, indecency of speech within the 
rooms,^* the most trivial scrap of official record shows that the 
writers were inspired with a sense of the dignity and importance 
of the work they had undertaken and had no desire to sully it 
with vulgarity of thought or word. 

But little more need be said upon the subject of finances, for 
while the items of expenditure can be segregated with profit, the 
sources of the revenue can not be analyzed with exactness. 
Initiation fees, monthly dues, fines, and outside subscriptions 
are confused in their entry. An approximate classification, 
dependent upon the judgment of the compiler in interpreting the 
items, may be given as follows : 

Receipts of the Committee 

Initiation fees, dues and fines $6,296.38 

Subscriptions 3,933.77 

Sale of certificates of membership 175.00 

Sundry sources 269.78 


34 Papers, 397. 

Problems and Methods of Admimstration 369 

In addition to this was the $4700 raised for the county jail. 
Therefore, if the analysis of receipts is approximately correct, 
total subscriptions donated in excess of standing assessments 
amounted to over $8000. The fact that a great part of this sum 
came from the merchants of the city, many of whom were not 
members of the Committee, is an indication of the public support 
that was extended to the association.^^ 

It was only the existence of such general approval that made 
it possible for the Committee to carry out its program of un- 
authorized interference with the established institutions of the 
state. It is very clear that from the moment when Jenkins' sen- 
tence was approved by the crowd assembled beneath the sand 
dune rostrum on IMarket and Bush streets, the Committee was 
convinced that its organization had achieved a position fairly 
representative of the mind of the community. That conviction 
was constantly fostered by the open commendation of the press.^^ 
Many exact citations from the daily papers have been incor- 
porated in this volume in order to associate with the initiative 
of the Committee the constant support received from the men 
outside its ranks. "We did not put them [the authorities] at 
defiance," said Ryckman. ''It was the sound, sober sense of the 
people that recognized the Committee as just."^^ 

35 See donation of Flint, Peabody and Company, and the facsimile of a 
list of subscribers, Papers, 527, 712. 

^6 ' ' With oije single exception the entire press of this city, Sacraraento, 
Stockton, Marysville and Sonora have justified and sustained the citizens, 
regarding their action as the result of painful, deplorable necessity" (AUa, 
1851, June 16 24). The exception was the Mormng Post, an unimportant 
sheet, which ceas"ed publication in November. The California correspondent 
of the New York Tribune thought the press of the state was so controlled 
by the advertising patronage of the merchants who led in the Committee, 
that disapproval would have been disastrous. The AUa indignantly denied 
the impeachment (Dec. 19 %), but it may have had some foundation, 
especially as the Herald was almost wrecked in 1856 by the withdrawal of 
advertising patronage in consequence of its disapproval of the reorganized 
committee (see infra, p. 410). 

37 Eyckman, MS Statement, 9. 

370 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

This outspoken and widespread approval, coupled with the 
franlmess with which the Committee announced its purposes and 
its personnel, formed a combination that actually gave the 
anomalous body a definite standing even in the eyes of the con- 
stituted authorities, and made possible those curious instances 
we have noted of cooperation between the lawful representatives 
of the people and the unlawful association that assumed power 
to supervise and override their proceedings. The governor of the 
state interfered only once in all the exciting events of 1851. 
The mayor of the city interfered not at all, except at the sum- 
mons of the governor, and both of these magistrates met the 
Vigilantes, in amicable conference, within the sacred precincts 
of the Executive Chamber. Sheriff Hays, as we have seen, was 
aided in his official exertions by the generous sum raised for the 
completion of the jail, and it does not appear that these cordial 
relations were affected by his varying success in the service of 
w^its of habeas corpus, or by the seizure and the subsequent 
recapture of Whittaker and McKenzie. With punctilious for- 
mality President Payran would order his chief of police to hand 
over the body of a certain prisoner to the sheriff of the county, 
to take an acknowledgment of the transaction, and ''herein fail 
not." With equal formality the sheriff or his deputy would 
accept the captive, and endorse on the order a receipt for the 
person named, from the hands of the "Chief of Police of the 
Vigilance Committee. "^^ 

Other sheriffs seem to have approved of the methods of the 
Committee, and two such officials sent to headquarters descrip- 
tions of escaped prisoners with the request that they should be 
captured if possible. The sheriff of Butte County characterized 
one man as such a pest to society that any assistance ''your 
honourable and gentlemanly Committee can render, in retaking 
him will be highly appreciated by . . . this whole community. 


38 Fapers, 346, 347, 426, 427. 39 Tapers, 278. 

Problems and Methods of Administration 371 

N. M. McKimmey, of Napa, was quite willing that the Commit- 
tee should hang without ado a certain blond Dutch horse thief, 
a linguist of sorts, who wore a white fur hat and a large blue coat 
closely buttoned to the chin.''*^ Both of these fortunate rascals 
seem to have escaped detection in San Francisco for their names 
do not reappear in the annals of the Committee. 

Officers of the army and the navy also cooperated with the 
officers of the Committee of Yigilance.^^ The representatives of 
foreign nations gave the countenance of their presence on several 
occasions.^^ More interesting still was the relation which existed 
between the Committee and the grand jury for the July term, 
on which served the eight Vigilantes who were charged by Judge 
Campbell with the Spartan duty of bringing against themselves 
indictments for the murder of Stuart. This was the jury that 
requested from the Committee information in the case of T. 
Belcher Kay, and visited headquarters to obtain it.*^ 

But in all the history of the Committee there was no incident 
more significant of its place in the estimation of the people than 
was the gift of a large and handsome banner by the women 
belonging to Trinity Church. This flag was always considered 
one of the treasures of the Committee of 1851, and it was carried 
by the group of original members who participated in the great 
parade that marked the close of the activities of the Committee 
of 1856.** It was finally given to Mr. John S. Ellis, as a souvenir 
of his services in both Committees. It is now in the possession 

4^0 Papers, 621-622. 

41 The attitude of Lieutenant Derby has already been noted (supra, 
p. 316) ; the captain and officers of the revenue cutter Folic gave useful 
information more than once (Papers, 134, 136, 203, 207, 209), and there 
were friendly relations with the officers of the sloop of war Vincennes (ibid., 
438, 440). S. F. Blunt and Lafayette Maynard, listed as officers in the 
Navy, were members of the Committee (C. of V., Constitution, 56). 

42 The British consul, George Aiken, attended Stuart 's examination, 
and the French consul that of Le Bras (Papers, 176, 275. See also supra 
p. 340). 

43 See supra, p. 283. 44 See infra, p. 403. 

372 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of members of his family, having by great good fortune escaped 
the fate that destroyed so many relics of pioneer days, and its 
beauty, softened but unimpaired by the lapse of years, still offers 
tribute to the Vigilantes of 1851.*^ 

The banner was presented and accepted with appropriate 
remarks. The spokesman "for the ladies stated that the gift was 
inspired by gratitude for the improved conditions brought about 
by the work of the Committee, and for the protection it afforded 
to the women who had formerly been distracted by constant fears 
of violence. He explained that the wreath of oak and fig and 
olive leaves that decorated one side of the banner was symbolic 
of the strength of the Committee of Vigilance and of the peace 
it had given to the homes of the city. The wreath of flowers on 
the reverse, enclosing the inscription of the donors, was emblem- 
atic of the gentler nature of the women who thus offered their 

The response of the representatives of the Committee re- 
iterated the principle that the radical action of the Vigilantes 
was justified by the necessity for self-preservation when the 
safety of their families demand some prompt and energetic 
action. It may be inferred that Payran wrote the sentences which 
read :*^ 

We are naturally and instinctively a law loving and law abiding 
people, and have those principles, inherited from our fathers, too deeply 
rooted ever to be eradicated. But we have also inherited another great 
principle, or rather we have it inherent, one of the fundamental principles 
of nature, and that is the principle of self preservation, '^ which springs 
eternal in the human heart." * * * 

Our people submitted to repeated injuries and unheard of outrages, 
in the vain hope that the great majesty of the law would lend an ear to 

45 The banner is now in the possession of Mr. Ashfield Ellis Stow, of 
San Francisco. Photographs are reproduced in the Papers, to face pp. 438, 
439. A smaller banner Avas presented to the Committee by Messrs. Plum 
and Warner {Papers, 339). 

46 From the Herald, 1851, August 12 ^. Signed by Stephen Payran, 
Eugene Delessert, F. A. Woodworth, D. S. Turner, C. E. Bond and G. M. 
Garwood. Extracts from the presentation speech are printed in the Appen- 
dix, p. 471. 

Problems and Methods of Administration 373 

their complaints and mete out impartial and even-handed justice. They 
submitted with patience until patience ceased to be a virtue, and their 
own safety and the safety of their families demanded some prompt and 
energetic action. 

It was at this critical moment the Committee of Vigilance sprung, 
spontaneously as it were, into existence. The people from whom emanate 
all human laws, rose in their might, by common impulse, and resolved to 
carry out, themselves, the true spirit of the laws by which we are 
governed. In pursuance of their duties, the Committee have been ever 
sensible of the weight of responsibility they have assumed, the delicacy 
of their position before the world, and have endeavored always to be 
guided in their deliberations by a proper sense of reason and justice. 

The addresses embody anew that spirit which we have already 
recognized as shaping American thoughts towards the conviction 
that "The People" might assume direct control of the govern- 
ment when the established order failed to function for the good 
of the community. It was the same spirit that inspired the an- 
nouncement of the policy of search without warrant ; that refused 
obedience to the writ of habeas corpus; that animated Stephen 
Payran when he wrote: "The people only can redress griev- 
ances," and again: "It is an old and popular doctrine, that it 
may be necessary to sacrifice the government to the people, but 
never the people to the government"; that prompted the Com- 
mittee of Sonora to say that in the existing dangers of society 
the people should resume the power they had delegated to in- 
capable or unfaithful servants ; that impelled Schenck to write : 
"Let them [officials] know that they are the servants of the 
people, and to them they must surrender their trust when not 
faithfully executed. ' '*^ The logical process of this idea inevitably 
tended either towards anarchy or towards some modification of 
the social mechanism that would provide a lawful readjustment 
of the relations between "people" and "servants" in cases 
where friction was developed to an intolerable degree. But the 
Vigilantes of 1851 honestly thought they were defending their 

47 For the citations, see Papers, 700, 373, 617, 635. 

374 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

sacred constitution from the machinations of a '^corrupt minor- 

Approval of the Committee of Vigilance was not limited 
to San Francisco. Everywhere in California the courts were 
proving inefficient. ' Everywhere the miners still made their 
own laws for the regulation of claims,*^ and settled many vexed 
questions in open meetings. Members of such communities con- 
stantly reverted to popular trials and punishments as they found 
themselves overrun with vicious and dangerous neighbors. Hang- 
ings and Avhippings and brandings, conflicts with sheriffs, and 
cruelty alike to innocent and guilty, had become all too common 
in the state. ^^ The precedent set in San Francisco was welcomed 
as a means of securing prompt punishment without the demoral- 
izing accompaniments of irresponsible mobs and brutal vengeance. 

A plan for a state-wide movement had been one of the 
early ideals of the San Francisco association, and the suggestion 
that other communities should organize for protection met with 
immediate response. On July 1 the editor of the Herald spoke 
with approval of the organization of committees in the interior 

48 See Papers, 373, and Index under " C. of V. — Theory of Organiza- 
tion. ' ' Bluxome said : ' ' There is a time when men should take the law 
into their own hands" (MS Statement, 10). A. M, Comstoek, of the Com- 
mittee of '56, said: ''The community resolved itself back into its original 
rights, and took the law into its own hands" (MS Vigilance Committees — 
Miscellany, 37). The ''right of insurrection" was defended in the Herald, 
1851, August 11 %; Alta, June 14 %; Nov. 8 %; Nov. 15 % ; Sacramento 
Union, Nov. 10 %. The grand jury of Marysville deprecated the evil^ that 
gave rise to the Committees of Vigilance, but felt that they could not be 
dispensed with (Alta, August 20 %). 

49 See supra, p. 74. Eef erring to the miners ' action in criminal affairs, 
Bancroft said that their courts were not wholly abrogated until after 1854 
{Popular Trihunals, I, 436). See also his California Inter Pocula, 240; 
Borthwick, Three Years, 125, 154-156; Helper, Land of Gold, 151-153. 

50 Ide wrote in December, 1851: "Last year the whole interior of Colusi 
[sic] County fell a prey to lawless maurauders and thieves, to suppress which 
'lynch-law' was resorted to, to supply the defects of such systems of law 
as were, in the exigencies of the case, imported from, and alone applicable 
to, other communities — differing as widely from ours as light from dark- 
ness" (Biographical Sketch, 235). See also Carr, Pioneer Days, 134-135; 
Memoirs of Cornelius Cole, 86-91; Mrs. D. »B. Bates, Incidents on Land 
and Water, 1858, p. 121. 

Problems and Methods of Administratio^i 375 

towns ;^^ by the end of the month Governor McDougal felt it 
necessary to issue his proclamation against a widespread Vigi- 
lante movement; and when in December Metcalf asked for a 
change of venue in his suit against committeemen and alleged 
that justice could not be expected in San Francisco, it was stated 
in reply that a change would be fruitless, as Vigilance Com- 
mittees existed in nearly every county of California.^- There is 
no evidence that the relation between these scattered bodies was 
based on anj^ closer bond than friendship and cooperation. At 
one time a suggestion was made that the San Francisco Com- 
mittee should send delegates to organize Vigilantes throughout 
the state, but no resultant action was recorded, although a 
recommendation that subcommittees of correspondence should 
be established was adopted, at least by the Committee of Santa 

It was not surprising that the scheme of protective com- 
mittees was approved in the old mining centers, where men were 
already accustomed to volunteer associations. Stockton, for 
instance, had attempted popular organization very early in its 
history. In the sumer of 1850 a ''Vigilance Committee" of 
fifteen citizens had been appointed to solicit from the state and 
military authorities assistance in preserving order. °^ This was, 
perhaps, the first use of the specific name that became so familiar 
in 1851, but it is not apparent that any success attended the 
effort. Allusion has already been made to the public demand for 
summary action when the band of horse thieves was discovered 

51 ' ' Other cities in the interior have imitated the example of San Fran- 
cisco, and have instituted Branch Vigilance Committees, who act in concert 
with the parent body. They have recently displayed the same energy and 
vigor that have characterized our own Association. It is probable that 
such branches will be established throughout all the settlements in the 
country, when by concert and correspondence, speedy justice will be sure to 
overtake the criminal, however rapid or remote his flight ' ' {Herald, 1851, 

52 Herald, 1851, Dec. 20 %. 

53 See Papers, 281, 283, 391, 527. 5^ Alta, 1850, July 19 %. 

376 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

in June, 1851, and of its contributing influence upon San Fran- 
cisco affairs. Almost coincident with the formation of the San 
Francisco association, that is, on June 13, one hundred and 
seventy citizens of Stockton formed a volunteer patrol, which 
later developed into a Committee of Vigilance with regular 
officers, who corresponded with the Committee of San Fran- 
cisco and joined with Sonora in the search for Whittaker and 
McKenzie. It was this body which transferred the thief, Jenks, 
to the Committee of San Francisco and recommended mercy, in 
spite of his evident guilt. ^^ 

One of the first communities to fall into line was the town of 
Marysville. A volume of minutes of a formal Committee of 
Vigilance is still preserved in the public library of that city.^^ 
The initial entry gave minutes for a meeting on June 24, which 
was an adjournment from an earlier gathering. Eleven more 
meetings were reported at intervals until August 26. The con- 
stitution as published in the Marysville Herald was signed by 
one hundred and twenty-seven persons and was almost identical 
wdth that of the San Francisco Committee. The minutes do not 
indicate, however, that an Executive Committee took the initia- 
tive, and all the gatherings were open to the entire membership.^^ 
Permanent headquarters were leased and guards appointed, but 
no action of any particular interest was reported. The Com- 
mittee of Marysville corresponded with that of San Francisco 
in regard to the Stuart-Berdue trials, transmitted information 
relative to various criminals, and assisted at the rescue of Mary 
Lye. In October a standing committee of ten was charged with 
the further conduct of affairs, and the general committee ceased 

55 See supra, p. 320; Papers, Index under ''C. of V. of Stockton"; 
Popular Tribunals, I, 449-451. 

56 Minutes of the Vigilance Committee of Marysville, 1851. Transcript 
obtained through the kindness of Dr. O. C. Coy. 

57 An Executive Committee of five was appointed, July 19, to assist the 
president, and another on July 29, but their proceedings are not noted. 

Problems and Methods of Admimstration 377 

operations. The daily papers spoke of temporary revivals of a 
Vigilance Committee in November, 1851, and in the spring of 
1852. Bancroft said that the original organization, or its suc- 
cessors, continued activities for many years and participated in 
public affairs as late as January, 1858.^^ 

The citizens of Santa Clara, called together by a public notice, 
met on or about June 25, 1851, adopted resolutions endorsing the 
action of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance and organ- 
ized a local association. The San Francisco Herald, noting with 
great approval ''that not a single citizen has yet refused to join," 
hoped for efficient cooperation between the societies of the interior 
towns. Several letters showed the warm support the smaller body 
offered to the San Francisco Committee, and one of them, dated 
' ' Vigilance Association Rooms, ' ' indicated that permanent head- 
quarters were occupied in Santa Clara. One of the first acts was 
to furnish bail for a well-known thief, to make his temporary 
freedom the occasion of a whipping, and then to return him to 
the more lenient courts. At another time this Committee con- 
victed an old man and his son of cattle stealing and sentenced 
both to corporal punishment. The father pleaded for mercy on 
account of his age and the son sturdily offered to bear a double 
share, an act of filial piety that moved the judges to remit the 
chastisement of the elder, although the dutiful son received his 
own allotted stripes. ^^ 

The Alt a California of June 28 stated that a Committee of 
Vigilance had been formed in Sacramento, where two hundred 
and thirteen citizens had signed the roll of members. This organ- 
ization cooperated with the San Francisco Committee in the 
search for Kay, and for Whittaker and McKenzie, but no other 

58 See Popular Tribunals, 1, 300, 454-i56 ; Eisiory of Yuba County, 
124; Alta, 1851, Nov. 14 %; 15 %; Herald, 1852, March 23 ^. 

59 See Papers, Index under ''C. of V. of Santa Clara"; Popular Trib- 
unals, I, 474-475; Herald, 1851, July 3 % ; Alta, August 30 %. 

378 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

record of its activities appears in the Papers.^^ Early in July 
there was great excitement in Sacramento over a murderous 
assault made upon James Wilson, and a Vigilance Committee 
was organized to demand the punishment of the four men who 
attacked him. The reports of the affair make it appear that this 
body had impromptu officers chosen by the crowd, and it may 
have lacked organic connection with the permanent society 
started in June. However that may be, we learn that when the 
governor reprieved one of the highwaymen who had been legally 
convicted and sentenced to death, the bandit was hanged by 
popular action immediately after the lawful execution of two 
of his companions. On that occasion Joseph R. Beard, president 
of the permanent Vigilance Committee, was chairman of the 
citizens' committee in charge of the hanging.^^ 

On June 28 the people of Sonora lynched a confessed thief, 
named Hill, and a day or two later a Vigilance Committee was 
privately organized. It immediately sent the San Francisco 
Committee a report of nine rogues implicated in Hill's confes- 
sion, and at other times it transmitted useful information. Its 
members also gave cordial a-ssistance to the San Francisco dele- 
gates who searched for Whittaker, and they passed resolutions 
condemning Governor McDougal's seizure of him and of his 
companion, McKenzie. The correspondence showed that regular 
officers directed the affairs of the organization and that letters 
were dated from the "Chamber" of the society. Lang's History 
of Tuolumne County gave some account of severe floggings ad- 
ministered by the Sonora Committee, and Bancroft mentioned 
other excessive punishments. But the local Directory boasted 
that the Committee refrained from all excesses and turned over 

60 Papers, 392, 415. 

61 See Papers, 366 note 2; History of Sacramento County, 125-126; 
Popular Tribunals, I, 441-448. The Sacramento Union, 1851, July 10, gave 
the officers chosen at the impromptu meeting on July 9. Bancroft gave the 
same names as if elected on June 25, and made no distinction between a 
permanent and temporary organization. 

Problems and Methods of Admimstration 379 

to the officers of the law the only man that came before them 
charged with a capital offense.^^ 

Sometime in July a Committee was organized in Nevada 
City. In response to a request for a copy of the constitution of 
the San Francisco Committee Stephen Payran addressed to the 
new society a characteristic letter which set forth the aims and 
ideals of the Vigilance movement in the following grandiloquent 
terms :^^ 

Our great aim, gentlemen, is to remove corruption from high places, 
to advance the safety and interest of our adopted state, to establish 
justice and virtue, without which our fall and ruin would be certain. . . . 
It is an old and popular doctrine, that it may be necessary to sacrifice 
the government to the people, but never the people to the government. 
That your course may be marked with prudence and justice, may God 
grant. Do not permit vindictiveness to enter into your deliberations. 
Be calm and determined; swerve not to the right nor to the left, but go 
onward in your pursuit of right. Be of one mind, and carry your point. 
The might, majesty, and power of the people can overcome all impending 
evils; like the thunders of heaven it will shake to naught all corruptive 
influences, and drive its authors into oblivion. Let the motto of our 
fathers be ours to sustain and perpetuate— Virtue, Liberty. Let us show 
ourselves worthy of our origin, determined to sustain and support the 
blessed privileges bequeathed by them to us. The moment we render up 
one tittle of the sacred constitution under which we were born, and which 
cost so much to obtain, and permit a small and corrupt minority to 
prescribe, we lose our caste, and our boasted institution will become the 
laughing stock of the world. 

Late in the fall the organization appointed an Executive Com- 
mittee, modeled, we may presume, on the system adopted in San 

The genesis of the Committee of jMokelumne Hill was typical 
of the temper of the time. The settlement was a mining camp, 

62 See Papers, Index under '*C. of V. of Sonora"; History of Tuolumne 
County [by Lang], 79-81; Heckendorn & Wilson, Miners # Business Men's 
Directory, 4:4:-, Popular Tribunals, I, 467-469; Sacramento Union, 1851 July 
11; Herald, July 14 24 ; Sept. 19 24; Alta, July 2 % ; Aug. 29 %; Sept. 19 %. 

63 Papers, 373-374. See also Herald, 1851, July 29 %; Alta, Nov. 21 %. 

380 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

still primitive and crude, and dependent upon the county magis- 
trates at Jackson for the restraint and punishment of criminals. 
But the county jail was so insecure and the county courts were so 
inefficient that the thugs of Mokelumne Hill had little cause to 
fear the law. Therefore the miners of that town approved the 
customs of '49 that lynched murderers red-handed. In July, 
1851, one John Nelson was so sentenced to death.^* In November 
another murder was committed but the people were persuaded 
to leave the criminal in the hands of the sheriff at Jackson.*'^ A 
general jail delivery at Jackson on Christmas night did not 
increase confidence in the constituted authorities. A popular 
jury immediately assembled at Mokelumne to try a man named 
Campbell who had wantonly killed a Chileno on Christmas Day. 
The verdict was "guilty," but the crowd was influenced to vote 
for the transfer of Campbell to the authorities. His friends took 
advantage of the reprieve to appeal his case to a smaller meeting, 
which voted to discharge him unpunished. ^^ 

On December 28 the better element of the camp organized a 
Vigilance Committee, elected responsible officers, and requested 
a model constitution from San Francisco. The ensuing weeks 
were nearly free from crimes of violence. Late in ]\Iarch a 
murder was committed and the Committees of Mokelumne Hill 
and Stockton united in an unsuccessful pursuit. A series of 
daring robberies occurred about the same time. The offender was 
detected and forced to confess and the Committee decided to deal 
with him on the spot, as delivery to Jackson would inevitably end 
in his release or escape. He was accordingh^ sentenced to death, 
allowed the ministrations of a priest, and hanged the next day, 
with the full approval of the town. The Committee deplored the 
fact that the necessity existed for such extreme measures, but 

64 JWa, 1851, July 7 %. I have found no record of the execution. 

65 Alia, 1851, Nov. 3 %. 

^& Alta, 1851, Dec. 30 %; Herald, 1852, Jan. 2 %. 

Problems and Methods of Administration 381 

announced that it would not disband until affairs promised 
better for the protection of society. Bancroft stated that the 
Committee of ]Mokelumne Hill subsequently reorganized to assist 
the regular courts and to oppose irresponsible mobs.^" 

Committees of Vigilance with formal organization and per- 
manent officers existed in other communities. The San Francisco 
society sent its constitution to a Committee at San Jose and cor- 
responded with a Committee at Wymans Ravine.^^ In the 
autumn of 1851 ''respectable citizens" of Scott's Valley, then 
in Klamath County, assured the Indian agent that if he would 
negotiate treaties with the natives they would punish all bad 
white men who might violate the provisions therein. In report- 
ing this action the agent wrote :^^ 

I am utterly opposed to the jurisdiction of ''Judge Lynch" in all 
ordinary cases; but until a military post is established on this exposed 
frontier, and society assumes a more settled, regular form, there seems 
to be no other course left for the protection of either person or property. 

In 1853, when residents of Humboldt County protested 
against the issuance of school Avarrants that would depreciate 
the value of desirable farming land, they resolved :'° ''That the 
Vigilance Committee be instructed to stop all further location of 
school warrants in Humboldt township." 

The ways of the miners of 1852, at Scott's Bar, Shasta 
County, were told in a picturesque story "founded on fact" 
published in the Overland Monthly:^ The theft of a large 
amount of gold dust led to the hasty formation of a Vigilance 

67 Papers, 718, 730-732, 744^745 ; Popular Tribunals, I, 465-467 ; Borth- 
wick, Three Years, 317-318; Alta, 1852, Jan. 5 %; Herald, March 24 %; 
26%; April 4%. 

es Papers, 676, 708-709. 

69 Eedick McKee to C. E. Mix, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 
Oct. 28, 1851, Conff. Docs., Ser. No. 688, Doc. 4, p. 212. 

^0 Herald, 1853, Oct. 23 %; Placerville Herald, Oct. 29 1/5. 

71 W. M, Turner, ' ^ How We Did It on Scott 's Bar, ' ' Overland Monthly, 
XIV (1875), 377-381. 

382 . Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Committee, the pursuit of the thief, his arrest, trial, confession, 
and corporal punishment. ' ' It gave the Bar a rough name, ' ' said 
the pioneer raconteur, ' ' an ' there wasn 't another robbery there as 
long as I can remember." He vouched for the authenticity of 
the copy of the warrant issued for the fugitive by the ' ' old chief 
of the Vigilantes ' ' at Humbug. It read as follows : 

State of California, County of Shaste 
Shaste Plains Township 
Vigelant Com Vs Dr Baid 

To any constable of Shaste Plains Township this day complaint 
having Laid before me Vigelant Committee that the crime of felony has 
Ben commited and acusing the above named Dr Baid of the same there- 
fore you are to arest the said Dr Baid and bring him before the people 
and to be delt with aeording to their Judgment. 

A. Boles 
Yreka 1852 chairman of Commitee 

There were popular tribunals in Southern California also 
during this period,'^- but there was not a well defined movement 
towards the organization of permanent Committees of Vigilance. 
Conditions of life there were so distinctly different from those that 
developed about the mining centers of the North, that although 
they are an integral and important part of the progress of the 
state as a whole, it has not seemed necessary to enlarge upon them 
in studying the historical background of the Committee of San 
Francisco. Still, the courts in Southern California, like those in 
the North, failed to check crime. There were manj^ robberies and 
murders and much trouble with lawless bands of Mexican 
bandits."^^ In July, 1851, the citizens of Los Angeles organized a 
volunteer police force that served under the orders of the authori- 
ties, and Bancroft spoke of a Vigilance Committee that was 

72 Rodman said there were few instances of lynch law in Southern Cali- 
fornia, Bench and Bar of Southern California, 45. Bancroft noted several 
instances, Popular Tribunals, I, 486-514. 

73 The San Francisco Herald, 1851, Oct. 29 %, quoted the Los Angeles 
Star as saying that in the past fifteen months there had been forty-four 
homicides, and only one trial for murder in Los Angeles County. 

Problems and MetJwds of Administration 383 

acting in the autumn of 1852.'^ Two years later conditions in 
Los Angeles were so bad that the San Francisco Herald advised 
the citizens of that town to organize an effective Committee, to 
which the Los Angeles Star of November 30, 1854, made reply 
that such an association was unnecessary.'^^ Just at that time 
one David Brown was on trial for a murder that had nearly led 
to his lynching in October. He had then been saved by the efforts 
of the mayor, Stephen C. Foster, who quieted a mob by promising 
immediate justice in the courts. Brown was convicted and 
sentenced, but reprieved at the last minute. ]\Iayor Foster 
promptly resigned his position, and on January 12 led an 
indignant crowd that stormed the jail and hanged the murderer. 
A few days later Foster was re-elected to his former office."^ 

Other Committees of Vigilance besides those already men- 
tioned were noted in the California papers between the years 
1851 and 1856.^^ Bancroft repeated and supplemented these 
allusions, but the references were so brief and so disconnected 
that it is impossible to say whether the societies were permanent 
in character or were temporary associations formed to meet 
particular emergencies. It is possible that more extended re- 
search might uncover traces of others, but the facts already col- 
lected are sufficient to show that the Committees of Vigilance, as 
organized by responsible citizens, made a sincere effort to secure 

T^PoimUr Tribunals, I, 489, 492. 

75 Popular Tribunals, I, 493-494. 

76 Popular Tribunals, I, 494-496 ; Newmark, Sixty Years, 139-141 ; His- 
tory of Los Angeles County (1880), 78-79. Another convicted murderer, 
named Alvitre, was hanged at the same time. 

77 Notices may be found of Committees at Barton's Bar, 1851 (Alta, 
Aug. 22 %) ; Natchez, 1851 (Alta, Nov. 15 % ; Popular Tribuimls, I, 456) ; 
Grass Vallev, 1851 {Popular Tribunals, I, 456) ; Shasta, 1851 (Popular 
Tribunals, I, 457; Alta, Aug. 20 %) ; Columbia, 1851 (Popular Tribunals, 
I, 469-470); Santa Cruz, 1852, 1853 (Popular Tribunals, I, 477); Campo 
Seco, 1852 (Herald. Feb. 24 %) ; Jackson, 1852 (Alta, May 31 %) ; Oak- 
land, 1852, 1854 (Herald, 1852, Dec. 14 %; 1854, Aug. 24 %) ; Nelson 
Creek, 1853-1854 (Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Coun- 
ties, 214-215); Mariposa, 1854 (Popular Tribunals, I, 467; Alta, March 
18 %; Herald, April 10 %); Coulterville, 1856 (Alta, April 29 %). 

384 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the punishment of crime without the evils attendant upon lynch- 
ings by an irresponsible crowd. The danger and the horrors that 
were inevitable under mob rule were demonstrated by the tragedy 
that has passed into history as the ' ' Downieville lynching," a 
tragedy which must form a part of any chronicle of the popular 
tribunals of California. 

Downieville was a bustling, populous mining camp, where 
heavj^-handed punishment was dreaded by the disorderly."^^ In 
this town, on the evening of July 4, 1851, an intoxicated man 
named Cannon greatly affronted a Mexican woman known as 
Juanita, by bursting open the door of her house or tent and 
stumbling within. Cannon's friends declared the entrance was 
an accident. A resident acquainted with the facts said that it 
was the climax of unwelcome advances made to the woman, who 
was young, beautiful, passionate, and the faithful consort of a 
Mexican who may or may not have been her lawful husband. 
The aggressor returned the next day, ostensibly to apologize, but 
his excuses were received with indignation. A heated dispute 
followed and Juanita suddenly terminated the quarrel by stab- 
bing the man with her dagger, while she furiously asserted that 
he had added the insult of spoken words to the insulting deed 
of the previous evening. 

The wound was mortal, the dead man had many friends, and 
the sheriff of Yuba County was out of reach. A mob seized the 
murderer and her companion and improvised a court. There 
was no doubt whatever of the homicide — the girl acknowledged 
it with blazing eyes and protested that her traditions taught 
the protection of her honor, but as her defense was in Spanish it 
made little impression on her angry auditors. She was, however, 
not entirely lacking in champions. A physician appeared and 
begged for her life on the plea of approaching maternity, but a 
sceptical colleague brutally contradicted his statements. Cannon 's 

78 See Downie, Hunting for Gold, 145. 

Problems and Methods of Admimstratio7i 385 

friends were determined to secure her instant execution, and 
under their influence it was decided to hang her from the truss of 
a bridge that crossed the river close to the town. 

Dressed in her gayest clothes Juanita walked towards her 
doom with the dignity of a princess. On the way another effort 
was made in her behalf."^ It is said that Stephen J. Field, former 
alcalde of Marysville, collected a little party of friends, halted 
the rabble, and made an almost irresistible appeal to the better 
nature of the men about him. While they hesitated between 
vengeance and chivalry, another IMarysville lawyer, Samuel 
Spear, followed Field with a flood of invective. The cry for 
execution was revived. Field and his friends were overpowered, 
and the torrent swept on. Standing on an elevation beneath the 
gallows the girl waved back those who offered to lay hands upon 
her, spoke steadily and calmly for a few minutes, and declared 
that if by the American code she deserved to die she would pay 
that penalty without regret or apology. AVith her own hands she 
adjusted the rope, cried a brave "Adios, Senors!" and swung 
lightly from the scaffold. An hour too late the sheriff arrived; 
within a week Downieville acknowledged the shame of the deed 
and the impromptu judge and jury were denounced for their 
responsibility. A Vigilance Committee was organized after this 
execution, ^° but we have no records of its activities. 

79 The effort at rescue was told by Senator Charles N. Felton, who had 
inmiediate information on the subject, although he was not an actual spec- 
tator (Grass Valley Union, 1917, Jan. 28, copied from an article by J. H. 
Wilkins, in the San Francisco Bulletin). See also DoAvnie, Hunting for 
Gold, 145-153; Royce, California, 368-374; Popular Tribunals, I, 587; 
Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, 445-447. The 
affair was condemned as disgraceful (Alta, 1851, July 14 %). The news- 
paper index in the California State Library has the f ollo-sving entries under 
the ''Downieville Hanging": Alta, 1851, July 9 %; San Francisco Argo- 
naut, 1877, July 14 i/^; Aug. 11 1/3; 1878, Sept. 28 %; Sonora Democrat, 
1877, July 28 Vs ; San Francisco Post, 1878, Aug. 10 %; 1895, Sept. 21 %; 
Shuck, Bench and Bar of CalifornAa, ed. of 1901, p. 273. 

80 Papers, 360, 829. A later Committee was mentioned in Alta, 1854, 
May 24 %. 

386 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

The press of the state wrote of the Downieville tragedy as 
briefly as possible, but it stands to this day as the most terrible 
example in California of the deeds that are possible in a state of 
society in which the habitual failure of their legal safeguards 
has accustomed even decent men to regard lynch law as a legiti- 
mate expression of the law of self-preservation.^^ The majority 
of the men in California did so regard lynch law in the decade 
of which we write. The emergencies of the transition period 
had forced it upon them as the sole restraint of criminals. A 
little later the impotence of their local courts had influenced 
them to continue the precedent and had finally resulted in the 
open demand for popular action that had been voiced by the 
press of the state. ^^ 

The Vigilance Committee of San Francisco and the allied 
organizations in the interior were not primarily responsible for 
the creation of this spirit. It had found previous expression in 
many crises of American life, and in every social group that 
braved anarchy and terrorism within that El Dorado whither the 
flag of the Union had failed to carry Federal, state, or local 
authority. It continued to express itself within those same 
groups when established authority still failed to give protection 
to life and property; it was abroad in San Francisco months 
before the Committee was organized; it asserted itself in un- 
mistakable terms during the early days of June; and it threat- 
ened to break forth in riot and bloodshed at any moment of 
supreme tension. 

What the Committee did create was an organization to combat 
the dual dangers that arose from inefficient administration on the 
one hand, and from mob vengeance on the other, by interposing 

81 Juanita was not the only woman killed by a California mob. A Negress 
who set fire to a hospital near Stockton was whipped so severely that the 
punishment proved fatal, perhaps because she was soon to become a mother 
(Saint-Amant, Voyages 421; Popular Tribunals, 1, 522-523). 

82 This point of view was frankly expressed in a letter from C. Hix, a 
justice of the peace, in Placer TiTnes and Transcript, 1852, May 9. 

Problems' and Methods of Administration 387 

between those forces a small group of representative men who 
were willing to assume public responsibility for deliberate vio- 
lation of the letter of the law, but who remained faithful to 
their personal interpretation of the spirit of the law and adopted 
methods so acceptable to their local communities that their ver- 
dicts superseded the vindictive clamor for stripes and death, ^^ 
Stripes and death they sometimes inflicted, but the records of the 
Committee of San Francisco, and the far less complete notices "of 
the deeds of the out-of-town associations show that, with few 
exceptions, the men who formed these permanent and recognized 
associations accorded fair trials, imposed just punishments, and 
held themselves aloof from wanton cruelty. 

83 In describing' the development of popular juries in California, Hittell 
said: ''It was what was knoAvn at first as lynch-law and afterwards as 
vigilance committee law" (California, II, 674). Coleman said that the 
Committee seized upon the forces of a mob, arrested them, and utilized their 
powers in regular form, systematically and coolly (''San Francisco Vigi- 
lance Committees," Century, XLIII [1891], 148). "La Comite de Vigi- 
lance est le Lynch Law regularise, modifie, ameliore" (Holinski, La Calif or- 
nie, 128). "Vigilance Committee, Gesellschaft welche sich zur Aufrechter- 
haltung der biirgerlichen Ordnung gebildet und zu dem Zwecke haufig die 
Handhabung der Justiz, unter Anwendung des kiirzesten Proc^ss-Verfahrens, 
selbst iibernimmt" (Karl Eiihl, Calif ornien, 1867, p, 283). 


'51 TO '77 

Whatever may have been the ideals of the members of the 
Committee of Vigilance or the self-restraint imposed by their 
methods, we cannot intelligently appraise their work until we 
inquire whether or not the Committee exerted any abiding 
influence towards the restraint of crime and the improvement 
of society. In doing so we encounter an exceedingly difficult 

Owing to the lack of official criminal statistics, the contem- 
porary newspapers furnish the only available source of infor- 
mation, and their accounts, at best, are incomplete and inadequate. 
Occasional statistics for San Francisco can be gathered from 
periodical reports of the recorder 's court published in the Herald 
and in the Alt a California} From the first of May, 1850, to the 
middle of July, 1851, a total of 3507 eases, an average of about 
240 a month, were tried before the recorder. Statistics were also 
published from time to time covering the period from June 15 
to December 31, 1851, with the exception of the month of October. 

These give approximately 375 cases per month, showing that 
there was no improvement in the total number of arrests, though 
by far the larger number were for petty offenses and violation 
of license ordinances. During July, August, and September few 
cases were sufficiently serious to be referred to a higher court. 
The Herald of September 15 stated: ''Crime has most sensibly 
diminished throughout the State, and no execution has taken 
place, either here or in the interior, since the sailing of the last 
steamer. . . . For two months there has not been a murder, a 
burglary or a robbery with force committed in the city. ' ' Later 

^Herald, 1851, July 17 % ; Aug. 15 %; Sept. 15 %; Alta, Oct. 8 %; 
Dec. 9 % ; 1852, Jan. 3 %. 

'51 to '77 389 

reports indicated that conditions were constantly changing.^ In 
April, 1852, the grand jury took a week's recess for lack of cases 
on the calendar, although the average of arrests, from January 1 
to May 31, was 353. In July, 1853, the grand jury found thirty- 
three indictments, a number considered low for a city of 50,000 
inhabitants. In 1854 the arrests for April, May, and June aver- 
aged 400. In 1855 they were 509 for February and March. 

Many generalizations have been made of the disorders occur- 
ring in California during this period, but accurate statistics have 
never been collected. It is said that at some time before 1855 the 
district attorney of San Francisco told a jury that during the 
previous four years there had been 1200 murders and only one 
legal execution in the city.^ I have been unable to find the orig- 
inal report of this speech, but the figures are often quoted as 
reliable. J. S. Hittell wrote that over a thousand homicides had 
been committed in San Francisco between 1849 and 1856, but 
he failed to give the sources of his information.* T. H. Hittell 
cited the California Chronicle of December, 1855, as stating that 
in the state at large, during the preceding eleven months, five 
hundred and thirty-five homicides had occurred, and forty-nine 
hangings by mobs, but only seven legal executions.^ 

2 See Herald, 1852, April 26 %; June 6 %; Alta, 1853, July 31 ^7; 
Kerald, 1854, May 4 %; June 3 %; July 7 %; 1855, April 2 %. The 
report of the grand jury for November, 1853, lamented an increase of crime, 
and noted that while the county jail held forty prisoners in March, 1851, 
the number had been trebled in March, 1853 {Alia, Nov. 29 %). 

3 See Helper, Land of Gold, 29, 253, 298; B. Brierly, Thoughts for the 
Crisis, 1856, p. 9; Popular Tribunals, I, 131. It was explained in the 
Phoenix, 1858, Feb, 14 %, that about three years earlier, H. H. Byrne had 
spoken of 200 and the papers had misprinted the number as 1200, The 
Phoenix was too scurrilous to deserve credence on any subject (see infra 
p. 402), and this paragraph may or may not contain a iiint of truth. The 
single execution is described in Popular Trihimals, I, 135, 746-747. 

4 J. S. Hittel, San Francisco, 243. The Herald, 1854, Sept. 9 %, spoke 
of 2000 murders which had taken place in the state since January, 1849. 

5 Hittell, California, III, 462. The Alia, 1856, Jan. 18 %, quoted, with- 
out contradiction, a statement in the New York Express, 1855, Dec. 12, 
to the effect that in the preceding ten months there had been 489 murders 
in California, 6 executions by sheriffs and 46 lynchings by mobs. See also 
infra, p. 397 note 30. 

390 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

In the dearth of official summaries the following paragraph 
published in the Herald, April 14, 1852, becomes a matter of 
interest : 

The idea is very generally entertained that the number of sudden 
deaths by accidents or violence is very great in this city. This, however, 
is incorrect, as the records show that but twenty-eight inquests have been 
held during the past eight months. For a city so large this is quite a 
small number. 

This brief report of the coroner covered the period from August, 
1851, to March, 1852, during which the influence exerted by the 
Committee of Vigilance was a most stem reality. It showed an 
average of less than four deaths a month from accident and 
violence combined. If any reliance whatever can be placed on 
the figures quoted from other sources, it also indicated that the 
immediate result of the rule of the Vigilantes was a diminution 
of crime that deserves respectful attention. 

The acceptance and repetition by contemporary writers of 
the current summaries of crime is conclusive evidence that the 
estimates were not at variance with the facts as to the existing 
conditions. Sinister as they are, they do not betray the darkest 
menace that overhung the state, for the youthful commonwealth 
had become a prey to despoilers far more dangerous than James 
Stuart and his accomplices or successors in crime. The latest 
plots were not hatched in the dens of Sydney Valley, but in the 
primaries, in the lobbies of the capitol, and in the halls of the 
national Congress. While business men were struggling with 
fires and floods, with unsettled land titles, with an unsound bank- 
ing system, with feverish speculation and delirious panics, the 
political schemers from the Southern plantations and from Tam- 
many Hall had not wasted a moment since the summer of '49. 
It is no exaggeration to say that every interest* in California 
except theirs trembled from hour to hour above quicksands of 
shifting fortune. Placer mining showed signs of speedy exhaus- 
tion, and quartz mining was still in the experimental stage ; the 

'51 to '77 391 

agricultural methods familiar to farmers from the East were 
unsuited to the seasons of the Pacific Coast ; and no great irri- 
gation undertakings were possible while land titles were little 
more secure than a gambler's stake. The commercial markets, 
depleted on one day by a fire or by an unexpected demand, were 
glutted on the next by the arrival of laden clippers from New 
York, and the caprice of public auction was the only standard 
of prices. The value of real estate in the cities rose and fell 
beyond all power of anticipation. Manufacture was almost pro- 
hibited in a district that had developed no cheap or dependable 
supply of building material, fuel, or labor.^ 

The only stabilized asset in the state was official patronage, 
and the exploitation of a people absorbed in financial adventures 
and unambitious for political preferment. This exploitation Avas 
conducted with a persistency of purpose, a skill in organization, 
and an utter abandonment to corruption that turned party con- 
ventions into a farce, dominated elections by bands of shoulder 
strikers and repeaters, and invented ballot boxes that served the 
bosses exactly as his magic hat serves the stage magician."^ Ama- 
teur politicians were helpless in such hands. They passed ordi- 
nances to regulate gambling, drinking, and social disorder,^ built 
their jails, and even elected many incorruptible magistrates, but 
every sporadic effort at reform was frustrated by the intrigue 
that kept the tools of the bosses in the strategic positions of 
administration and finance. 

The Vigilance Committees, though they had certainly con- 
tributed to the safety of particular communities, had nowhere 

6 1854 and 1855 were years of disastrous failures. For financial and 
political conditions, see J. S. Hittell, Scm Francisco, 208-330 ; T. H. Hittell, 
California, III, 423-459; Bancroft, California, VI, chaps. 23-26; VII, chap. 
8; Royce, California, 377-501. 

7 The ' ' patent, double back action ballot box ' ' is described and illus- 
trated in Popular Tribunals^ II, 1-21. 

8 San Francisco passed various ordinances framed to close saloons at 
midnight, to suppress houses of ill fame and to control gambling, but it was 
almost impossible to avoid unconstitutional provisions, or to secure convic- 
tions. See, for instance, the Alta, 1854, March 10 %; April 6 %; May 3 %. 

392 Yigilance Committee of 1851 

succeeded in effecting any lasting reforms in local politics or in 
local courts. In most places their careers were brief, although 
the title, at first generally respected because of the character 
of the original Vigilantes, was often adopted by impromptu 
assemblies which formed hasty organizations to inflict impetuous 
punishments. But the men who led in the Committees of Vigil- 
ance constantly reappeared as leaders in other forms of civic 
activity. In San Francisco, for instance, they showed their 
continued interest in public affairs by constant service on the 
grand jury. As late as 1855 six former Vigilantes were on the 
grand jury in July, eight in the following November, three or 
more in January, 1856, and five in March.^ Often they acted 
as foremen, signing to the reports of these authorized bodies the 
same names they had fearlessly attached to the incriminating 
documents filed by "No. 67, Secretary." Thus they continued 
their protest against political graft and political lassitude, against 
supervisors who robbed the city, merchants who shirked service 
on trial juries, and jurors who acquitted prisoners in the face 
of direct evidence of guilt. One censorious foreigner who re- 
sided in the city in 1852 wrote that the grand jury was the only 
body in California which spoke its feelings and opinions fear- 

By the spring of 1854 crime was again rife in San Francisco, 
burglaries had increased beyond all precedent, and in addition 
to the petty thieves, groups of determined squatters attempted 
to hold illegal possession of disputed tracts of land. To meet 

9 Reports of grand juries, and lists of jurors may be found as follows: 

1851, Herald, August 1 %; 4 %; 5 %; Sept. 10 %; 30 %; Oet. 2 %; 
Nov. 29 % ; Dec. 3 %. 

1852, Alta, March 28 %; April 7 %; Herald, April 26 %; May 29 %; 
30 %; Alta, Dec. 1 2/,; lO %; 11 (from clipping). 

1853, Alta, July 31 %; Oct. 1 i/^; Nov. 29 8/.. 

1854, Alta, Feb. 5 %, 17 %; April 2 %; June 4 %; 14 %; Aug. 6 
%; 112/2; 19 %; Oct. 124. 

1855, Herald, April 1 %; Alta, Aug. 1 %; Dec. 2 1/2. 

1856, Alta, Feb. 2 %; April 6 %. 
^0 California [by Huntley], II, 60. 

'51 to '77 393 

the menace of these lawless "settlers" and to check the armed 
conflicts that sometimes ensued, the landholders formed an 
''Association for the Protection of the Rights of Property, and 
the Maintenance of Order, ' ' adopted a formal organization, and 
appointed an executive committee of thirteen. About a thousand 
members enrolled and announced that their object was to sustain 
the law. They denied having any connection with the Committee 
of Vigilance, but many former Vigilantes were conspicuous in 
the meetings." The proceedings were generally confused and 
inharmonious, and the association disbanded without any notable 
achievement. The San Francisco Herald appeared to favor the 
movement, but the county judge, T. W. Freelon, took pains to 
warn the grand jury that rumors were abroad of a protective 
association of landowners which required prompt suppression. 
''San" Francisco has had one Vigilance Committee," he said. 
"It is past! and let the dead past bury its dead. It must have 
no other. Let there be Revolution or Law. ' '^^ 

The sentiments expressed by Judge Freelon were by this 
time gaining adherents throughout the state. The papers as a 
rule discouraged the continuance of Committees of Vigilance, 
and emphasized every hopeful symptom of increasing order. One 
pioneer of Placerville said that by the spring of 1853 "society 
commenced forming, ' ' and that the better element there con- 
cluded that promiscuous hanging should stop, organized a party 
to support the law, and in one instance held off an angry mob, 

11 Current disorders and the, need of better protection were noted in the 
Herald, 1854, May 4, %; May 23 %. On June 2 the editor said: ''The 
Vigilance Committee was scarcely ever more necessary than at present." 
The meetings of the Association were held June 5, 6, 7, 9, and perhaps later 
{Herald, June 6 %; 8 %; 10 %; Annals 541). The following former Vigi- 
lantes were prominent in the movement: C. E. Bond, 0. L. Case, J. F. Curtis, 
J. P. Manrow, Dr. Samuel Merritt, H. M. Naglee, John Parrot, John Perry, 
Jr., A. G. Eandall, Michael Eeese, William Sharon, S. Teschemacher, S. E. 
Throckmorton, D. S. Turner, J. P. Van Winkle, Ferdinand Vassault, J. G. 
Ward, Eobert Wells, F. A. Woodworth, S. E. Woodworth, and possibly 
Louis Cohn [L. Cohen?] and J. C. George. A counter organization of 
'' Settlers" was reported in the Herald, June 16 %. 

^^ Herald, 1854, June 14 %. 

394 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

rescued the suspected murderer, and escorted him to Coloma, 
where he was lawfully tried and executed. Thereafter there 
^Svas no more lynching in El Dorado County. "^^ It is to be 
hoped that one county, at least, was so soon purged of disorder. 
In other parts of California lynchings still occurred.^* The 
papers, however, reported them with increasing condemnation, 
and public disapproval was expressed with increasing vehemence. 
In the spring of 1854 the grand jury of Calaveras County in- 
dicted the men who had participated in the lynching of a horse 
thief, but the writer has been unable to discover that they were 
ever brought to trial. ^^ In January, 1855, there were several 
illegal executions in the mines, which prompted the editor of the 
Alta to write :^*^ 

The Vigilance Committee had an influence from which California has 
not recovered to this day. Its influence for good was speedy; but because 
its immediate influence was good, its remote influence has been so many 
times the worse. Life and property were more safe during the days of 
the Vigilance Committee, and we do not design to find any fault with the 
members of it now. Those were trying times; and as the law failed to 
punish, many good men engaged in that which they could not be brought 
to look upon in ordinary times without abhorrence. 

A few months later, after mobs in Amador County had made 
savage reprisals upon Mexicans because of the murder of an 
American, the residents of Butte City met in mass meeting to 
protest against such action on the part of a " purported Vigilance 
Committee." In reporting the episode the editor of the Alta 
California said :^^ ' ' The name of a Vigilance Committee should 

13 Norton, Life and Adventures, 293. 

14 For references on criminal conditions, see supra, p. 127 note 32 ; Ban- 
croft, California, VII, 191-219; Popular Tribunals, 1, 515-576; History of 
Nevada County, 115-117; Michael Kraszewski, Acts of the "Manilas" .. . 
at San Juan in 1866. 1878 (MS in the Bancroft Library). 

■^^ Herald, 1854, April 22 %. 

'^^ Alta, 1855, Jan. 27 %. Defense of that action, or a similar incident 
at Michigan City, was made in the Herald, Feb. 11 %. 

17 Alta, 1855, Aug. 31 -/o. Earlier reference to this lynching was made 
in the Alta, Aug. 13 %. 

'51 to '77 395 

never be mentioned except as a terrible remedy employed in the 
past, when the impunity with which crime was committed led 
well meaning men to do what, on sound reasoning, cannot be 
justified." According to a later issue, society was ''settling 
down, in spite of occasional lynchings ; public gambling was dis- 
appearing; vice was restrained by law, and the Sabbath was 
more generally observed/^ 

The dangers that inevitably attended the prolonged activities 
of Vigilance Committees received attention from the grand jury 
of Tuolumne County in October, 1855. An interesting extract 
from its report is to be found among the documents printed in 
the Appendix.i^ Not long thereafter a murderer was lynched at 
Columbia, Tuolumne County, and in editorial comment the Alta 
said :-^ ' ' There was a time when Lynch-law in California seemed 
to some extent justifiable, when San Francisco and the state were 
full of cut throats, who could not readily be punished in any 
other than a summary manner— but that time, if it ever existed, 
has long since passed away. ' ' Strong resolutions condemning the 
lynching were passed by residents of the vicinity, and the grand 
jury indicted eight of the men responsible, but no effective prose- 
cution followed. 

Study of the newspapers thus shows that public opinion 
more and more condemned the appeal to lynch law, although 
there were times of decided reaction. For example, when the 
San Francisco grand jury for March, 1855, severely arraigned 
the powerful but secret forces that were corrupting the admin- 
istration of the city, the editor of the Herald hailed the report 
as a reminder of the ' ' good and vigorous days of the Vigilance 
Committee," and fervently ejaculated, "May such times come 
again, for we want them sadly. "-^ The press, to be sure, took 

18 See Alta, 1855, Oct. 21 %. Sunday closing, Aug. 9 %; Nov. 1 %. 

19 See infra, p. 472. 

^0 Alia, 1855, Oct. 24 %; Dec. 17 %; Popular TribunaU, I, 548-553. 
21 Herald, 1855, April 22 %. 

396 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

pains to mention every indication of increasing tranquility, 
but in spite of optimistic editorials there was constant disorder.^- 

The most wanton offenders were the underlings of the political 
bosses, for money and influence could protect any man, no matter 
how heinous his offense. In November. 1855, Charles Cora, a 
gambler, quarreled with William H. Kichardson and shot him 
on the streets of San Francisco. It was a cold-blooded murder, 
the dead man was the United States Marshal, but Cora was a 
protege of the political machine, and every one knew that money 
and influence would be lavished to secure his acquittal. ^^ 

For three years the members of the Committee of Vigilance 
had hoped for protection and justice from their magistrates, and 
had refrained from open interference with the administration of 
the law, while the mysterious Committee of Thirteen guarded 
their secrets and kept alive the spirit of vigilance. One of the 
old Committee, however, was not silent ; James King of William 
had started his Eveni^ig Bulletin before Richardson was shot, and 
had inaugurated in it a fearless and vehement crusade against 
the corruption that ruled the state. He struck from the shoulder, 
heavy blows that spared neither high nor low. After the murder 
of Richardson he spoke editorially of a rumor that the Committee 
of Vigilance might be reorganized. He deprecated taking that 
step, if it might in any way be avoided, but he most violently 
advocated hanging any sheriff or deputy who might treacherously 
allow the murderer to escape.-* 

It is very probable that a revival of the Committee was dis- 
cussed at this time. Cora made affidavit that on the night of the 
shooting an association of citizens secretly met to consider his 
case and decided to hang him if he should be acquitted by a 

22 ' ' To walk the unfrequented streets in this city, at a late hour of the 
night unarmed, is as dangerous as threading a forest infested bv a war 
party of hostile Indians" {Alia, 1855, Oct. 4 %). 

23 Alta, 1855, Nov. 19 %. 

24 San Francisco Bulletin, 1855, Nov. 20 %; 22 %. 

'51 to '77 397 

jur}^;^^ and one talesman, James Davis, was excused from jury 
service when he testified that he had met with about a dozen 
others to consider whether the rules of the old Committee called 
for action in the existing emergency.^^ The decision had been 
in the negative, but the Alia significantly asserted that San 
Francisco would watch the trial, and that if conviction proved 
possible lynch law would be ' ' done away with. ' '" 

The trial was a farce that exhibited every mockery of justice 
possible in an American criminal court. Cora was jauntily de- 
fiant; his counsel were the most eloquent in the city; one jury- 
man made public the fact that he had been offered a bribe by 
the defense; and every canon of decency was outraged by the 
attempt to influence the jury by a sentimental plea based on the 
devotion to the prisoner of the wealthiest and most notorious 
member of the San Francisco demimonde. When the result, as 
anticipated, was a disagreement, the Alia forgot its late abhor- 
rence of popular tribunals and prophesied that lynch law would 
quickly be the desperate resort of a city where life could be 
protected only at the point of a pistol.^^ 

While Cora complacently awaited retrial thirteen other men 
in San Francisco were under indictment for homicide with small 
prospect for their conviction,-'' and murders were so common in 
the state that the attempt to record them was abandoned.^° James 
King of William, one time Vigilante, editor of the Bulletin and 
scourge of corruptionists, was himself fatally wounded on the 
afternoon of the fourteenth of May, 1856, by James P. Casey, 

25 Alt a, 1856, Jan. 4 %. Sam Brannan was taken into custody as a 
general precaution against a public outbreak (Alta, Nov. 18 %; 19 %). 
For details see Popular Tribunals, II, 29-34; Hittell, California, III, 472. 
Long extracts from the papers of the day are given in F. M. Smith, editor, 
San Francisco Vigilance Committee of '56, 1883. 

2<i Alia, 1856, Jan. 5 %. J. Hawes Davis was member No. 216. 

27 Alta, 1855, Dec. 8 %. 

28 Alta, 1856, Jan. 17 %. 

29 Alta, 1856, Jan. 21 %. 

30 Alta, 1856, March 30 %. The violent deaths, including accident and 
murder, were estimated at 1400 yearly. 

398 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

a supervisor of the city, whose past record as a Sing Sing convict 
had been held up to public opprobrium by the militant reformer. 

King's personal qualities had won him many admiring friends, 
while his outspoken arraignment of political iniquity had made 
him a popular leader and hero. The cowardly attack that laid 
him at death's door immediately invested him with the crown 
of a martyr. As if in answer to the shot the bell of the Monu- 
mental Engine Company sounded once more the well remem- 
bered call to action, and in less than an hour an infuriated multi- 
tude surged about the county jail, clamoring for the instant 
execution of the assassin. Our old acquaintances Charley Duane 
and Edward McGowan were already reinforcing the guard at 
the door. Detachments of the local military companies were 
rushed to the scene to hold the mob in check, but the men who 
hesitated before the rifles of the militia soon began to finger their 
own revolvers, and hysterical orators urged them to storm the 
building regardless of consequences. Shouts of approval inter- 
rupted the speakers, cries of anger and oaths of rage arose in a 
hideous pandemonium above the surging mass, while in all the 
city there was not a single representative of the law whose prom- 
ise of justice could ring true, or carry an assurance of righteous 
retribution that might invoke patience. 

Suddenly this tossing sea of heads reflected the ripples of a 
hidden current from its outer margin. Men swayed and turned 
and bent their faces to whisper, and lifted them again, sane and 
human, and cleansed from the blood lust of the brute. A brief 
message had passed from mouth to mouth,, traversing the ranked 
thousands with incredible swiftness : 

'^The Vigilance Committee has organized!'' 
In less than five minutes the fearful tension was relaxed,^^ 

31 The thrilling moment of announcement was described by W. O. Ayers 
in * ' Personal Eecollections of the Vigilance Committee, ' ' Overland Monthly, 
ser. 2, VIII (1886), 166, and by J. D. B. Stillman in MS Vigilance Co^i.- 
mittees — Miscellany, 7-8. Hittell cited Ayer's reminiscences as an authori- 
tative source (California, III, 482-488). 


for in the Vigilance Committee rested assurance of justice and 
righteous retribution, and the men of San Francisco, still gath- 
ering by thousands during all that tragic evening, waited and 
trusted in the promise of its speedy resurrection. The papers 
of the next day printed this notice : 

The members of the Vigilance Committee, in good standing, will please 
meet at No. 105% Sacramento Street, To-day, Thursday, 15 inst., at 9 A.M. 

By order of the Committee of Thirteen. 
San Francisco, May 14 [sic], 1856. 

The archives of the Committee of 1851 make no mention of 
the Committee of Thirteen, which appears in history solely on 
this occasion. From the statements of various Vigilantes, espec- 
ially those of William T. Coleman and George W. Frink,^^ we 
learn that after various sporadic gatherings and much fruitless 
discussion Coleman was induced to take the initiative in reor- 
ganization, largely on account of his standing in the old Com- 
mittee, and of his membership in the last representative group, 
the Committee of Thirteen. No other allusion to it occurs in 
the manuscript recollections. Bancroft did not explain it, and 
inquiries now fail to discover its personnel or its proceedings. 

The Committee of Thirteen remains to this day a shadowy 
and unnamed power, but that very secrecy was symbolic of the 
mysterious bonds that survived the lapse of years, for on the 
afternoon of May 14, 1856, the Committee of Vigilance of 1851 
was no longer a corporeal organization. It was a name, and a 

32 Frink arrived in San Francisco in June, 1852, and it is probable that 
he knew the old Committee only by reputation. He said that during the 
evening there was much confusion, and no definite action, but that Cole- 
man and he finally went to the office of the Alto., where Coleman wrote out 
the notice. "He said, 'How shall we sign it?' I said: 'Put your name 
to it, as you are one of the thirteen of the old committee. ' He said, ' No, 
put it one of the thirteen, as we disbanded under the name of the thirteen" 
(MS Statement, 4-5). Coleman's recollection coincided with this (MS 
Statement, 34), except for the modification of the signature to the form 
that appeared in the papers. As Coleman had lived in the East for two 
years prior to January, 1856 (MS Statement, 30; Phelps, Contemporary 
Biography, I, 272-280), it is permissible to infer that the Committee had 
disbanded before his departure. 

400 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

memory ; it was a spiritual force that restrained the men of San 
Francisco from mob murder in the twilight of that evening ^nd 
enlisted them by thousands under the oath of the Vigilantes 
during the days to come.^^ 

The response to the printed call was instant and overwhelm- 
ing. Old members hastened to the appointed place, and after a 
brief preliminary meeting threw open the doors for the reception 
of new registrants. Before midnight two thousand names were 
enrolled, headquarters were secured, an Executive Committee 
was selected, and the rank and file were grouped into military 
companies of one hundred men each. Coleman, who was by this 
time a merchant of wealth and prominence, reluctantly accepted 
the office of president, Bluxome was "Number 33, Secretary," 
and many other former workers were placed in offices of responsi- 

It has been necessary to touch lightly on five years of Cali- 
fornia 's development in order to place the Committee of Vigilance 
of 1851 in its historical relation to the Committee of 1856. The 
latter is usually designated the "Great Committee," and the 
work of the former is obscured by the more spectacular features 
of the larger association. Yet in spite of the silence that lay 
between the last notice of the Committee of '51 and the call that 
rallied the Committee of '56, the organic unity of the two bodies 
is proved by many tokens : by the personnel of the leaders, ^^ by 
the adoption of the old constitution,^^ by the membership cer- 
tificate with its significant "Reorganized," and by the silver 
medal struck for the committeemen, which bears the old symbol. 

33 Mr. Charles B. Turrill, of San Francisco, has a photographic copy of 
the Oath of 1856. It reads: ''I do solemnly swear to act with the Vigilance 
Committee and second and sustain [?] in full all their actions as expressed 
through their executive committee." 

34 Names of officers of 1856 are printed infra, p. 473. 

35 Coleman said that the old constitution was adopted unanimously on 
the day of the called meeting, subject to revision at the leisure of the 
Executive (MS Statement, 41). See also Popular Tribunals, II, 111-113. 

'51 to '77 401 

the Watchful Eye of Vigilance, encircled by the legend ' ' Organ- 
ized 9th June, 1851. Reorganized 14th May, 1856. "^e 

The work of the Committe of 1856 is another story. Bancroft 
has told it in his own way in the second volume of Popular 
Trihiinals; Royce has sketched it briefly, but well ; and T. H. 
Hittell has given it at length with exact reference to contem- 
porary newspapers and to the manuscript records, which were 
familiar to him as well as to Bancroft.^^ The Committee was 
supported by the active membership of eight or nine thousand 
men, about three quarters of all the white citizens of San 
Francisco. "^^ Barricades of sand bags were erected around its 
headquarters on Sansome Street below Front, and armed men 
stood there on guard, so that Fort Gunnybags became a citadel 
that defied both civil and military authorities. On the day that 
James King of William was borne to the grave the Committee 
hanged Casey, his assassin, and also Cora, who had killed William 
Richardson. A few weeks later it inflicted the same punishment 
on two other murderers. Philander Bruce and Joseph Hethering- 
ton. The latter had killed Dr. John Baldwin in a dispute over 
land titles, in August, 1853. On July 24, 1856, he also killed 
Dr. Andrew Randall, who had been robbed at Monterey by the 
Stuart gang in 1850. The papers spoke of Hetherington as a 
''recipient of the old Vigilance Committee's attention," and 
Bancroft identified him with the witness of 1851. If that identi- 
fication is correct, a strange fatality made the former collector 
of ]\Ionterey the victim of the very man who had been chief 

36 See frontispiece. 

37 Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, II; California, VI, 746-754; Tuthill, 
Calif ornm, 432-524; Royce, California, 437-465: Hittell, California, III. 
460-649; J. S. Hittell, San Francisco, 245-262; F'. M. Smith, San Francisco 
Vigilance Committee of '56 ; The Vigilance Committee of 1856 [by James 
O'Meara], 1887. 

38 J. S. Hittell placed the membership at 9000 out of a white male 
population of 12,000 {Eesources of California, ed. 1, p. 371). Bancroft 
said 8000 {California, VI, 747). 

402 Vigila7ice Committee of 1851 

informer against the gang that had despoiled him six years 

These executions announced to the violent that money and 
influence and eloquent counsel might no longer be trusted to 
provide immunity from punishment. But the Committee did 
not stop there. Very early in its work it broke through the 
defense of secrecy that had baffled the investigations of grand 
juries. It laid its hands upon an incriminating ballot box that 
was still stuffed with forged ballots ; it obtained confessions from 
the ward heelers who had done the bidding of the powerful and 
efficient bosses; then it announced its intention of cleansing the 
city from the plague of political corruption. It sent into exile 
over a score of the most valued tools of the machine. ^° Among 
them were Charles Duane, who had evaded a like fate in 1851, 
and Rube Malony, who had been a committeeman in that year.^^ 
Ned McGowan, also conspicuous upon the early black list, was 
forced to take refuge in flight.*^ "When David S. Terry, justice 
of the state supreme court, stabbed S. A. Hopkins as the latter 

39 See Alta, 1856, July 25 %; Papers, 27 note 2; Hittell, California, III, 
609-615 ; Popular Tribunals, Index under ' ' Hetheringlon ' ' ; Vigilance Com- 
mittee of 1856 [by O'Meara], 31; Smith, San Franoisoo Vigilance Com- 
mittee of '56, p. 75; San Francisco Call, 1893, Feb. 5 i%. Various notices 
reported that Hetherington was an Englishman of wealth, had formerly 
lived in St. Louis, and had resided in California since 1849 or 1850. Another 
rumor stated that in 1853 he had deserted a wife in Vermont, who intended 
to sue for his property (San Francisco Bulletin, 1860, July 19 %). 

40 A list of sentences was given in Smith, San Francisco Vigilance Com- 
mittee of '56, pp. 82-83 ; reprinted in L. H. Woolley, California, 1849-1913, 
1913, pp. 21-22. 

41 Frink said that before the close of work some of the men who were 
fearful of arrest tried to join the Committee ''to get under cover," and 
that Duane made such an application, but was refused (MS Statement, 21). 
For a note on Malony see supra, p. 198). 

42 See his Narrative, 1857. In August, 1857, McGowan started the pub- 
lication of the Phoenix, a Sacramento newspaper that attacked the members 
and friends of the Committee without regard for truth or decency. After 
it was once prohibited in San Francisco, it was continued for a time under 
the title Vlylquitou-s. McGowan was a familiar figure in San Francisco until 
his death, Dec. 8, 1893. In his last illness William T. Coleman contributed 
towards his hospital expenses (San Francisco Examiner, 1893, June 4 %; 
5 1%; Chronicle, 1893, Dec. 9 5/^). 

'51 to '77 403 

was arresting Malony, the Committee seized Terry, kept him in 
custody until Hopkins was out of danger, and liberated him only 
after the most bitter dissensions over his f ate.*=^ G. W. Ryckman, 
who refused to join the reorganized Committee, said that it even 
contemplated the arrest of Broderick,^* but such a radical step 
was never taken. 

The General Committee adjourned sine die, August 18, 1856. 
Over six thousand men marched in the final parade, and the 
banner of 1851 led a company of one hundred and fifty members 
who represented the original organization.^^ As a factor in Cali- 
fornia life the Committee long survived the formal adjournment, 
and Executive meetings continued as late as November, 1859. *« 

Nor was that all ! The men of San Francisco had learned 
many lessons in civics since September, 1851, when they tried to 
purify their government by selecting for endorsement the better 
nominees of the regular political parties. Before they disbanded 
the Committee of '56, they took the first steps towards the for- 
mation of an independent People's Party, which was recognized 
as the organ of the Vigilantes. In the fall election their ticket 
was first in the field ; it was later endorsed by the new Republican 
party, and was overwhelmingly successful in November, when 
there was held perhaps the ''first honest election that had taken 
place in the city."^^ A permanent and efficient political organ- 
ization was created that practically controlled the government of 

43 See Trial of David S. Terry 'by the Ccnnmittee of Vigilance, 1856; 
A. E. Wagstafe, Life of David S. Terry, 1892, pp. 97-136; also general ref- 
erences on the Committee. 

44Ejckman, MS Statement, 19-20; The Vigilance Committee of 1856 
[by O'Meara], 55-56. 

45 J. S. Hittell, San Francisco, 259; Popular Tribunals, II, 531-533. 
The Wide West, October, 1856, printed illustrations of the procession, but 
placed the number of old members at a someAvhat lower figure. The banner 
was certainly carried although Eyckman said that it was never given to 
the Committee of '56 (MS Statement, 18). 

46 Popular Tribunals, II, 541. 

4TSee Hittell, California, III, 636-665; J. S. Hittell, San Francisco, 
262-266; Bancroft, California, VI, 770-772; Popular Tribunals, II, 639- 

404 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

San Francisco for more than ten years. Although many former 
committeemen served in various positions there was never any 
attempt to establish a distinctive Vigilante ring, and the People 's 
Party was loyally supported by the better men among both 
Democrats and Republicans. Royce said that for years after 
the Committee of Vigilance of 1856 the people of San Francisco 
' ' boasted not without warrant, that they possessed, and for nearly 
a generation retained, the purest and soundest municipal govern- 
ment then known in any city of the size in the whole country. ""^^ 
Charges have been made that the Committee of 1856 gave 
evidence of a sentiment that favored the political independence 
of the Pacific Coast. ^^ If that were so the spirit of secession was 
effectiveh^ checked and was never diverted toward affiliation with 
the cause of the Confederacy. Indeed, there has been some 
speculation of late as to whether the organization of the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance was a conscious effort to oppose the influence 
of pro-slavery and secessionist Southerners. In studying the 
work of 1851 an effort has been made to collect any data that 
might indicate a latent partisanship in the sectional interests of 
the slavery discussions, but nothing of importance has come to 
light beyond the fact that in later years most of the leading 
committeemen, irrespective of parties, were loyal supporters of 

663; Tuthill, California, 518-524; Davis, PoUtioal Conventions, 68-69, 73, 
74, 79 ; Joseph Weed, ' ' Vigilance Committees of San Francisco, ' ' Overland 
Monthly, XII (1874), 357; Woods, Lights and Shadows of Life on the 
Pacific Coast, 7, 45-48 ; MS Statements of Frink, 23 ; J. P. Manrow, 11-12 ; 
H. P. Coon, 6 et seq.; C. J. Dempster, 20. 

*8Eoyce, ''Provincialism," Putnam's Magazine, VII (1909), 236. 
''This change [the purification of elections] was brought about by the 
organization of a Vigilance Committee, and they completely revolutionized 
the politics of the state" (Tinkham, History of StocMon, 245). The 
People's Party has even been charged with economy to the point of parsi- 
mony (J. P. Young, Journalism in California [1915], 33-35). The Con- 
solidation Act of April 19, 1856, had prepared the way for more efficient 
local administration (California, Statutes, 1856, chap. 125). 

49 See references supra, p. 102 note 36; Popular Tribunals, II, 371; 
Royee, California, 456; Life, Diary, and Letters of Oscar Lovell Shafter, 
1915, p. 182; MS Statements of Coleman, 79-81; Dempster, 53-55; Green, 60. 

'51 to '77 405 

the Federal Union. The subject may assume greater significance 
if the archives of the Committee of 1856 become available for 
more thorough research. ^° Generalizations relative to the in- 
fluence of that body should be based on the original records 
rather than upon the accounts of secondary historians. 

At the outbreak of the Civil War California was still a 
Democratic state with pro-slavery Southerners strongly in- 
trenched in office. The contest for governor in 1861 was con- 
sidered a matter of the most vital importance, for the advocates 
of secession hoped to strengthen their hold on local affairs, while 
the Republican party was determined to assume control. We 
must not linger over those exciting times, except to record that 
San Francisco, already purged of the Southern machine and con- 
trolled b}^ the People's Part}^, was the strategic center of the 
whole campaign and polled nearly one fifth of the total vote cast 
for Leland Stanford. ^^ It was the fulcrum for the lever that 
wrenched the secessionists from their places of power, and the 
steel of that fulcrum had been forged by the hands of the 
Committee of Vigilance. 

A valuable contribution to the history of this period is con- 
tained in a paper read before the Panama-Pacific Historical 
Congress of 1915, by the late Horace Davis, who emphasized the 
value of loyal San Francisco in the state campaign of 1861, and 
told of the secret formation of a Home Guard to protect the polls 

50 See infra, note in Bibliography on Archives of the Committee of 

51 The vote is reported as follows, in the Annual Statistician, compiled 
by J. P. Mains, 1879, pp. 427-428: 

Leland Stanford, J. R. McConnell, John Conness, 
Republican Democrat Union Dem. 

State 56,036 32,750 30,944 

San Francisco 10,728 1,243 3,178 

See also Hittell, California, IV, 290; Kennedy, Contest for California 
in 1861; Carr, Pioneer Days, 392-408; J. J. Earle, ''Sentiment of the 
People of California -with Respect to the Civil War, ' ' American Historical 
Association, Beport, 1907, I, 123-135. It is said that about this time ''an 
old hero of the Vigilante days ' ' frustrated a plot to attack the arsenal 
at Benicia (R. T. Piatt, "Oregon... in the Civil War," Oregon Historical 
Society, Quarterly, IV (1903), 106-107). 

406 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

from corruption.^- Their muster book contains a list of about 
1650 San Franciscans whose Union sentiments were so unqualified 
that they were ready to respond to a call for service under any 
sudden emergency. In the list are a few familiar Vigilante 
names. Selim E. Woodworth, George M. Garwood, James C. 
"Ward, A. L. Tubbs, and Henry Wetherbee, all committeemen of 
1851, took charge of five enlistment sheets. Oliver B. Crary, of 
1856, headed another, and other members of the later body may 
have been prominent in the Guard. None of the rolls shows any 
concerted action by members of '51, except the one in charge of 
Woodworth. That was signed by several of his former associates, 
who formed the nucleus for a company of seventy-one in which 
ten of the first Committee were enrolled. ^^ 

In this connection it is interesting to read in the manuscript 
statement of Dr. H. P. Coon, a member of the Committee of 1856, 
that previous to 1864 no line was drawn by the People's Party 
between Republican and Democratic nominees. In 1865, how- 
ever, the nominating committee resolved to endorse only candi- 
dates who had voted for Lincoln and Johnson in the last presi- 
dential election. Dr. Coon felt that this action ''was the end of 
the successful career of the Old People's Party at the ballot- 

The San Francisco Committee of 1856 did not attempt to 
establish any coordinated branches in the interior towns.^^ For 

52 Horace Davis, **The Home Guard of 1861," in Panama Pacific His- 
torical Congress, The Pacific Ocean in History, 1917, pp. 363-372. Mr. 
Davis was a member of the Guard, and presented the muster book and sixty- 
two enlistment sheets to the Bancroft Library. 

53 S. E. Woodworth, F. E. [A.?] Woodworth, J. C. Ward, T. A. Barry, 
C. E. Bond, G. W. Ryckman, W. A. Darling, G. M. Garwood, J. D. Farwell, 
E[dgar?] Wakeman. No attempt has been made to check the whole list 
for members of the Committee. 

54 Coon, MS Statement, 27. Dempster said the Committee of '56 would 
have disbanded earlier if it had not been for the ''pro-slavery chivalry" 
(MS Statement, 22). 

55 Manrow, MS Statement, 10-11. Frink said that some men from out 
of town signed the rolls just to add their influence to the effort (MS State- 
ment, 23). 

'51 to '77 407 

many years, however, sporadic Committees of Vigilance appeared 
in places where roughs and criminals congregated, and ejectment 
proceedings, more or less violent, often took place. Occasionally 
there was a lynching by a so-called Vigilance Committee, but in 
the absence of such records as exist for 1851 it is impossible to 
tell whether or not the organizations were any more responsible 
than angry mobs.^« They do not seem to have prolonged their 
existence beyond some passing emergency except in Truckee, 
where a committee known as the ''601" effected desirable reforms 
in 1874, and for more than a decade remained a name of menace 
to the desperadoes of the vicinity.^' Gradually the disorderly 
element in the state shrank to a more normal ratio, violence was 
more controlled, jails were made secure, popular tribunals ceased 
to usurp the functions of the criminal courts, and the number of 
lynchings dropped to two or three a year.^^ 

There was a notable reunion of the San Francisco Vigilante 
personnel in 1877, when the city was in the throes of labor 
agitation and of anti-Chinese demonstrations which the authori- 
ties were impotent to control. There was such danger of incen- 

56 I have not attempted extended research regarding later Committees 
of Vigilance, but have verified the following references m the Sacramento 
Union (Beoord Union after Sept. 1, 1875). , 

1860 Sept 20 U, Protective League of Altaville, Angel's Camp, and 
vicinity; 1863; No. 26 3/„ and 1870, Dec. 21 %, V C in Los Angeles (see 
Ilso Popular Tribunals 1, 507, 511-512; Newmark^i^i/ Years m Sauth- 
em California, 204-210, 324, 420); 1873, Nov. 10 % and Nov 13 %, 

V C. in Gilroy; 1873, Dec. 12 8/3 and Dec. 19 %,Y. C. m Visalia (see also 
Popular Tribunals, 1, 470-474); 1880, July f/Ze ^^ ^.^^4 ^^.^.^g^.^ l'J% 
V. C. at Merced; 1882, Jan. 9 i/g, rumor of a V. C. m Sonora; 1882 Oct 2 
24, V. C. in Yreka; 1884, Oct. 25 %, V. C. i^ Lundy; 1887, Sept. 5 14, 

V C. in Jackson; 1888, Aug. 16 4/o, and 1889, July 13 1/1, rumors of a V. C. 
in Fresno. , . ^ ,, 

57 Popular Tribunals, I, 463-465. So far as I have ascertained, there 
was no execution by -601," but one of their own members was ac<^ldentelY 
shot in a raid on armed rowdies. The Committee was :[^^^^^f ^^f/^1 ^y^^"" 
ing disturbances, according to the Sacramento Union 1874 Dec 16 ^5 19 
l/T It was condemned by the grand .lury of Nevada County (^^^^v If f ' 
Feb 11 %). The same paper alluded to renewed activities at Truckee m 
the issue of 1876, Jan. 7 %; at Grass Valley (1885, March 30 1^), and 
again at Truckee (1889, Aug. 17 %). 

58 Statistics in Cutler, Lynch-Law, 184. 

408 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

diary attacks against the coolie laundiymen and the docks of 
the Oriental steamers that the citizens assembled as in pioneer 
days and called upon the former president of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee, William T. Coleman, to organize a Committee of Safety 
for the aid of the city forces. Within twenty-four hours over five 
thousand men had volunteered their services, funds were col- 
lected, headquarters were established, and by the orders of the 
President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and the 
Governor of California, ammunition and Federal forces were 
placed at Coleman's disposal. The ranks of the Committee were 
furnished with stout hickory pick handles, as emergency weapons, 
and firearms were held in reserve for extreme necessity. This 
''pick handle brigade" patrolled the city by day and night, 
suppressed incipient riots, prevented any disastrous conflagra- 
tion, and demonstrated to the lawless that the slender equipment 
of the municipal police had behind it an effective army of well 
disciplined civilians. The pass word of the Committee was ' ' '56 
to '77," and the spirit that had intimidated the criminals and 
the corrupt politicians of an earlier generation now overawed the 
hoodlums of the sand lots and re-established order within a few 
days. Then, as before, the swift mobilization of the man power 
of the city had prevented the horrors of mob conflicts, and 
again as before, when its work was accomplished the association 
quietly disappeared from public activity, though no one knew 
how long its leaders remained on guard against further disturb- 

59 See San Francisco papers, 1877, July 24 et seq.; Popular Tribunals, 
II, 696 et seq.; Bancroft, Chromcies of the Builders, 1, 349-379; Hittell, 
California, IV, 594-599; Coleman, "San Francisco Vigilance Committees," 
Century, XLIII (1891), 145-148; Bryce, Amerioan Commojiwealth, II, 432; 
San Francisco Chronicle, 1896, Jan. 12 %. 


Such is the story of the San Francisco Committee of Vigi- 
lance : a brief, vivid, and significant episode in the history of the 
American people. Its significance, as Henry Morse Stephens 
said, will alwaj^s be interpreted in accordance with the shifting 
interests of successive generations and the personal vision of 
successive historians. 

The contemporary discussions that arose in 1851 have already 
been indicated in the references to press reports cited in pre- 
vious chapters. Extracts from other comments in local and 
Eastern papers may be found in Popular Trihunals} AVhere 
objection to the work of the Committee was made, its basis was 
almost invariably impersonal argument relative to the danger 
of undermining the foundations of law and order, since there 
were few advocates particularly interested in the fate of the 
thieves and murderers summoned to the bar of the Committee. 

"When one tries to estimate the weight of commendation or 
condemnation made in a later period it is necessaj^y to consider 
as one the two associations of '51 and '56, which were usually 
grouped together by friends and foes. An immediate difference 
in the attitude of the public is discernible after '56. Then the 
Committee pitted itself against men of influence. It struck at 
the very existence of the powerful clique that controlled political 
patronage, and its menace to organized society was greatly 
enhanced in the eyes of some of its critics by its menace to their 

1 Popular Trihunals, 1, 402-426. Bancroft quoted less freely from the 
objectors, Avho were represented in San Francisco chiefly by the Morning 
Post, although many Eastern papers severely condemned the Committees. 

410 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

individual importance and prosperity.- Current discussion in 
the papers was bitter and prejudiced on both sides: the Alta 
stoutly defended the course adopted by the Committee, the 
Herald nearly ruined itself by outspoken and violent objection.^ 
The views of the personal antagonists of the Vigilantes were 
vividly set forth in two anonymous pamphlets which described 
their work as illegal, brutal, vindictive, and under the control 
of many members who were as guilty of political corruption as 
were the men they prosecuted.* 

More permanent value may be attached to the criticisms of 
contemporaries who were neither active members nor active 
traducers of the Committees. Bancroft in a sweeping general- 
ization grouped their enemies as including ''besides the lower 
class of evil-minded persons, ... all licentious judges, stabbing 
jurists, duelling editors and fighting lawyers. ' '^ But opponents 
with higher standards should not be vilified or ignored. Peter 
Burnett viewed the movement as ' ' incipient rebellion and a fatal 
precedent."^ Frank Marryat, whose observations deserve con- 
sideration, wrote that no one would defend the acts of the Com- 
mittee and that they met with much opposition from the better 

2 This difference between the opponents of the first and second Com- 
mittees was emphasized by Dempster in his MS Statement, 27-28. 

3 John Nugent was editor in 1851 and 1856. He was so violently opposed 
to the reorganization of the Committee in 1856 that hundreds of patrons 
terminated their subscriptions, the auctioneers withdrew their advertise- 
ments, and the Herald was greatly reduced in size. It never recovered its 
lost prestige (see Popular Tribunals, II, 78-83, 217-223; Hittell, Califor- 
nia, III, 489-492). It is said that the policy of approval adopted by the 
Alta was due in part to the desire to retain advertising patronage (San 
Francisco Call, 1868, Jan. 1 i/i). 

4 Judges and Criminals . . . History of the Vigilance Committee of San 
Francisco, 1858, ascribed to Dr. Henry M. Gray; The Vigilance Committee 
of 1856 [by O'Meara]. The Narrative of Edward McGowan should be 
mentioned with anti-Vigilante literature, as may be ' ' The Lost Journals of 
a Pioneer" attributed to C- E. Montgomery a Southern lawyer of some 
prominence {Overland Monthly, ser. 2, VII (1886), 75-90, 173-181, 276-287). 

5 Bancroft, California Inter Pocula, 589. 

6 Burnett, Recollections, 398. 

Lynch Law as a National ProMem 411 

class of citizens, but he admitted, nevertheless, that San Fran- 
cisco conditions were improved by their efforts/ Judge John 
Currey said plainly that popular accusations exaggerated the 
corruption of the courts and that in spite of ballot box stuffing 
and organized crime, existing evils could have been corrected 
without resort to violence if the time and money devoted to the 
work of the Committee had been expended in a faithful per- 
formance of the legitimate duties of citizenship.^ 

The early historian, E. S. Capron, closed a brief and in- 
accurate report of the work of the Committee of 1851 by ex- 
pressing sentiments akin to those of Judge Currey, asserting that 
its organization and actions were unjustifiable.^ William F. 
White, who concealed his identity under the pseudonym of 
William Grey, made a violent attack upon the Vigilantes in his 
Picture of Pioneer Times m California}^ A more modern writer 
who strongly condemned the Committee of '56 was Isaac J. 
Wistar. He was an associate of Edward D. Baker, Casey's 
attorney during the trial for the murder of Richardson.^^ 

On the other hand, a large number of the early Californians 
who had known the dangers of inefficient law and the protection 
of prompt, severe, but extra-legal punishment, maintained that 
the Committees of Vigilance accomplished an ultimate good and 
that some radical action was necessary to break the hold upon 
office which had been obtained by unscrupulous politicians and 
their criminal adherents. The Rev. S. H. Willey said : ''It looked 
then as if the immense preponderance of opinion in favor of the 
Committee was an effort to regain the reality of ' law and order, ' 

7 See Marryat, Mountains and Molehills, 227, 238, 390. 

8 John Currey, Incidents in California, 1878, p. 16, MS in the Bancroft 

9E. S. Capron, History of California, 1854, pp. 131, 161. 
-^0 Picture of Pioneer Times, by William Grey [W. F. White], 108-114. 
The facts presented by this author are far from accurate. 

11 1. J. Wistar, AutoMography, 1914, I, 313-316, 325-332. 

412 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

while those who stood by its forms were mainly those who had got 
those forms into their hands and used them to defeat justice. ' '^^ 

Some of the keenest criticisms on Californian conditions dur- 
ing the exciting period from 1851 to 1856 were w^ritten by Mrs. 
Eliza W. Farnham. She acknowledged the promptness and the 
usual justice of the popular tribunals as contrasted with the 
authorized courts, and the check they put upon criminals who 
had little cause to fear the law; she admitted that an era of 
apparent tranquility resulted from the rule of the Committee 
of Vigilance of 1851 ; but she felt that the improvement was 
superficial and was based upon a public opinion that desired 
order merely for temporary self-protection. '^ There is no deep 
stake in social welfare, ' ' she wrote, ' ' and consequently no action 
that reaches its spring." She sustained her contention by citing 
the constant tendency to elevate the worst men to office where 
dishonesty could do even more damage than it could in better 
organized and more watchful communities. When the events of 
1856 justified her anticipations of recurring violence, she fol- 
lowed them with eager interest, and although her concluding 
chapter was written before the adjournment of the Committee, 
she expressed her belief that the people of San Francisco and 
California were about to free themselves effectually from the open 
and dreadful corruption which had fastened upon their public 
affairs. ^^ 

H. H. Helper saw very little to admire in California, but he 
gave unhesitating praise to the Committees of Vigilance as the 
one means of enforcing order in communities which overwhelm- 
ingly reversed the normal American proportion of lawless and 

12 S. H. Willey, ThiHy Years in California, 1879, p. 49 et seq. He 
reported that the churches were fuller for four or five years after the 
uprising- of '56. The editor of The Pacific, a pioneer religious weekly, 
asserted that with few exceptions the clergymen and church members 
approved the second Committee (The Pacific, 1856, Oct. 9 %). 

13 See Farnham, California In-doors and Out, 96, 318, 458-508. 

Lynch Law as a National Problem 413 

law-abiding citizens.^-* Another statement of the views of those 
who sympathized with the Committee may be found in Alonzo 
Delano's Life on the Plains and among the Diggings. A brief 
excerpt may well be quoted here •}^ 

When the history of California shall be written, after time has 
mellowed the asperity of passing events, the occurrences of these days 
will form a singular . . . chapter. ... In a country whose people are 
proverbial for their love of justice and order ... a condition of things 
existed, which threatened at one time to dissolve the social compact of 
the community . . . organized bands of desperadoes and assassins . . . 
made the existing laws only an instrument to protect them in crime and 
high-handed villainy . . . the whole length and breadth of California 
was so beset with unprincipled men . . . that, for the peace of society, 
a general revolution became necessary. . . . [When] it was found that 
under the administration of the law, the insecurity of life and property 
increased instead of diminished, the people became aroused to a sense of 
their own wrongs, and, convinced that there was no other mode of redress, 
they resolved to take the punishment of offenders into their own hands, 
and to do what the administrators of the law could not, or would not do — 
protect the honest part of the community from the depredations which 
were daily and hourly committed upon them. . . . This state of things 
could no longer be endured. Patience was no longer a virtue. Self- 
preservation rendered it imperative that the first law of nature should 
be observed, and that unless some united effort was made, society must 
resolve itself into its primitive elements, and brute force become the only 
defence against aggression and violence. 

It is interesting to notice that travelers from Europe, in spite 
of their more conventional traditions, expressed approval of the 
Committees of Vigilance. Writing of affairs in 1852, Borthwick 
said:^^ ''Any one who lived in the mines of California at that 
time is bound gratefully to acknowledge that the feeling of 
security of life and person which he there enjoyed was due in a 
great measure to his knowledge of the fact that this admirable 
institution of Lynch-law was in full and active operation." 

14 Helper, Land of Gold, 237-253. See also Harlan, California, 211. 

15 Delano, Life an the Plains and atruyng the Diggings, 363-365. 

16 BorthA\dck, Three Years, 224^234. 

414 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Ernest Seyd, another Englishman, said that the Committees were 
supported by the majority of the educated English, German and 
French immigrants.^^ 

Saint-Amant, who made a most sympathetic analysis of the 
difficulties that accompanied the establishment of government 
in such unusual surroundings, paid tribute to the immense good 
accomplished by Vigilante methods.^^ Auger also approved 
heartily, and wrote a spirited account of the executions in San 
Francisco in 1851, which, however, was not based on the experi- 
ences of an eyewitness. ^^ Ernest Frignet, giving another second- 
ary report, eulogized both Committees as instruments that served 
the ultimate establishment of public order. ^° 

''A Prussian Gentlemen," writing to the Alta, lauded the 
Committee of 1851 as an object lesson which compelled crim- 
inals to visualize the indignation of the law-abiding element. 
He held that it is 'Wery necessary that society show itself in 
immediate concrete form, otherwise it is regarded as a mere 
abstract idea, which exerts too little influence on the stolid minds 
of brutish individuals. ' '^^ The German traveler, Friedrich Ger- 
stacker, familiar with events in California through prior obser- 
vation and contemporary correspondence, also praised the Com- 
mittee of 1851, and wrote that it ''honors the citizen to risk his 
own life and property that he may free town and state from 
such a curse, or, at least, check the continuance of such crimes. ' '^^ 

The later historians, Bancroft and Hittell, were staunch 
advocates of both Committees. Even Josiah Royce, who found 

17 Ernest Seyd, California and Its Resources, 1858, pp. 23-24. 

18 Saint-Amant, Vmjages, 138, 408-411. 

19 Auger, Voyage en California, 209-219. 

20 Frignet, La Calif ornie, 177-179, 196-202. 

21 Alta, 1852, April 7 %. 

22 Gerstacker, Narrative of a Journey round the World, 253-255. See 
also commendation of Frank Leeouvreur, From East Prussia to the Golden 
Gate, 1906, pp. 183-193; Carl Meyer, Nach dem Sacramento, 1855, pp. 

Lynch Law as a National Problem 415 

so much to condemn in the progress of society in California, 
called them the ' ' expression of a pressing desire so to reform the 
social order that lynch law should no longer be necessary," and 
he said that what they accomplished was "not the direct destruc- 
tion of a criminal class, but the conversion of honest men to a 
sensible and devout local patriotism. "^^ 

But it is fruitless to multiply the repetition of opinions either 
for or against the Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco,^* 
since every estimate is so deeply colored by the personal tempera- 
ment or the experiences of the writer. Yet it is interesting to 
observe that whether the various critics justify or condemn, 
whether they depict the Committee as productive of immediate 
good or immediate evil, they all agree that it was a product of 
basic defects in the local organization of society from which had 
arisen a pressing need for fundamental readjustment. In this 
judgment they were unquestionably correct, and here the com- 
mentators on California conditions have usually been content to 
pause. They have studied the Committee of Vigilance solely as 
a product of its local environment and described the situation 
from which it sprang as a ferment of political and social corrup- 
tion peculiar to the time and place. Such a treatment is in- 
adequate and misleading; just as the Committee must be related 
to the earlier episodes of frontier expansion, so also must it be 
related to later developments of American life. 

For California did not present a unique and isolated example 
of defective social adjustment ; while the state was emerging from 

23 Royce, California, 407, 465. 

24 A few further references may be ^ven. Cornelius Cole, who had little 
sympathy with lynch law, acknowledged that the San Francisco Committee 
of '56 contributed largely toAvards bringing about a condition where lynch 
law was no longer employed, and afforded '*an example of good flowing 
from evil" {Memoirs, 119). Much the same opinion was expressed by New- 
mark {Si3:ty Years in Southern California, 141). H. K. Norton approved 
its results {Story of California, 254-257), as did Henry Robinson, (''Pio- 
neer Days of California," Overland Monthly, VIII [1872], 457-462). 

416 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

her period of storm and stress, and deferring more and more to 
the mandates of her constituted authorities, many of the con- 
ditions characteristic of her earlier youth were reappearing 
elsewhere. The individual histories of several states and the 
publications of their local historical associations are full of 
material that is closely akin to the reminiscences of the California 
Argonauts. In Indiana the lawful authorities were so incapable 
of restraining crime that the legislature of 1852 legalized the 
formation of private associations for the pursuit and arrest of 
horse thieves and gave the members the rights and privileges of 
constables. The experiment proved dangerous, for the volunteer 
posses were inclined to exceed their authority and inflict sum- 
mary punishment on their captives. In spite of this tendency the 
statute remained in force, with modifications dating from 1865. ^^ 
Vigilance Committees to suppress crime were formed as well in 
Iowa in the decade of the fifties. They kept few records and 
their actions were often governed by sectional animosities, while 
their punishments were sometimes flagrantly cruel and unjust.^*' 
During the years 1855 to 1870 gold rushes like that of 1849 
sent prospectors by the thousands into Idaho, Montana, Eastern 
Washington, and Oregon. There, as in California, social neces- 
sities everywhere outran the tardy establishment of institutional 
administration. There, again, was the same intermingling of 
diverse races and of honesty and crime ; the same atmosphere of 
seething excitement ; the same need for local self-assertion in the 
absence of social control imposed from without. An excellent 
review of this general situation has been made by William J. 
Trimble in his Mining Ack)^cmoe into the Inland Empire. To one 

25 See W. A. Rawles, Centralising Ten-denoies in the Administration of 
Indiana, 1903, pp. 308-309. 

26 The Annals of the Jackson County Historical Society of Iowa contain 
many reminiscences of the period of lynch law, especially I (1905), 30-34, 
51-52; II (1906), 51-91 passim; III (1906), 28, 34-41, 68-75; IV (1907), 
93-97. See also B. F. Gue, History of Iowa, 1903, I, 337-350 ; and mpra, 
p. 74 note 23. 


Lynch Law as a Nati(m<il Froblem 417 

who approaches that volume after a detailed study of California 
problems, it is very interesting to read r" 

But whatever elements of population prevailed in one or the other 
place, there was one everywhere present, everywhere respected, every- 
where vital— the Calif ornian. To Fraser Eiver, Cariboo, Kootenay; John 
Day, Boise, Alder Gulch, Helena, went the adopted sons of California- 
youngest begetter of colonies— carrying with them the methods, the cus- 
toms, and the ideas of the mother region, and retaining for it not a little 
of love and veneration. 

In the first critical months of the gold rush the territorial 
government of Washington exerted a nominal and attenuated 
authority from the seacoast to the Rocky :Mountains. It entirely 
lacked the force needed to control the scattered and shifting 
camps, and the miners turned instinctively to the precedents set 
in California. Miners' meetings were summoned, miners' courts 
were formed, and civil and criminal matters were adjusted by 
popular decision.-^ As had been the case in California, this 
simple and voluntary association was effective in safeguarding 
life and property in camps dominated by industrious and honest 
workmen, but it could not cope with organized and expert 

A notorious gang of such criminals operated in 1862 and 1863 
in the neighborhood of East Bannock, within the present limits 
of the state of Montana. Their secret leader was Henry Plummer, 
a shrewd, courageous man, who was popular in the camp as the 
trusted miners' sheriff, while at the same time he was using his 
position to direct and protect the movements of his confederates. 
The entire district was terrorized, over a hundred murders were 
committed, and the friends of the outlaws often controlled the 
miners' meetings that tried suspected prisoners. Finally, in 
December of 1863, a Vigilance Committee was formed by the 
citizens of Virginia City and its vicinity. The association 

27 w. J. Trimble, Mining Advance into the Inland Empire, 1914, p. 141. 
28lMd., 227-242. 

418 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

extended over a wide area, and in conformity with the San Fran- 
cisco example, the various branches of the Committee had written 
pledges and by-laws, executive committees, and permanent, 
responsible officers, many of whom became respected leaders of 
civic affairs in the later era of order and tranquility. At the 
same time the organization differed in several important points 
from that of San Francisco. Its membership was absolutely 
secret. Its deliberations were also secret, and sentences were 
passed, in advance of arrest, upon men known to be affiliated 
with the desperadoes. Pursuit was then instituted and the death 
penalty was often inflicted as soon as the culprits were appre- 
hended. Relentlessly the Vigilantes scoured their snow-swept 
wilderness and within a month Plummer and more than a score 
of his confederates were executed, other criminals took refuge in 
flight, and violence was checked. A pioneer who knew of this 
work from personal observation said of it r^ 

Of all the organizations for the irregular administration of justice 
that have marked the westward advance of American civilization, 
whether known as Moderators, Eegulators, Vigilantes, or what not, the 
Vigilance Committee of Montana will be found to have been the most 
complete, most ef&cient, and most necessary of them all, and to have 
partaken of the character of a mob the least of any. 

The territory of Montana was given separate organization 
in the spring of the next year, but the courts established their 
supremacy slowly, and the very judges themselves were some- 
times content to let the Vigilantes go on for a time, as they 
could attend to criminal matters more cheaply, more quickly, 
and better than it could be done by the courts. The perplex- 
ing problems of frontier justice were discussed with unusual 
judgment and lucidity in two charges to the grand jury of 

29 C. Barbour, ''Two Vigilance Committees," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, 
X (1887), 285-291. For detailed accounts of these Committees the reader 
is referred to T. J. Dimsdale, The Vigilantes of Montana, various editions, 
1866-1915; N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, 1890 (2 vols.), or 
1912 (1 vol.); O. D. Wheeler, ''Nathaniel Pitt Langford," Minnesota 
State Historical Society, Collections, XV (1904-1914), 634^-639. 

Lynch Law as a National Problem 419 

Madison County, Montana, delivered by Chief Justice H. L. 
Hosmer in 1864 and 1866. Thoroughly conversant with con- 
ditions that existed prior to the organization of competent courts, 
Judge Hosmer gave unqualified approval to the severe measures 
adopted by the Vigilantes for the suppression of crime, and 
lamented the disorders that had resulted elsewhere from ''the 
tardiness and moral obliquity of those Territories which have 
adopted a more lenient course." None the less, he pointed out 
with solemn warning the evils that would inevitably ensue if 
popular tribunals persisted in a country equipped for legal 
justice ; but instead of berating the Committees of Montana for 
continuing their work, even after the courts had been established 
in the territory, he expressed the conviction that their members 
would gladly disband as soon as they saw that courts and juries 
met the demands of their frontier society, and he gravely queried 
whether the blame for each fresh outbreak of popular vengeance 
might not lie at the door of his own court, or rest upon the juries 
he impaneled. ^'^ 

A later chief justice, Theodore Brantley, in reviewing the 
judicial history of Montana, wrote of the Committee of Vigi- 
lance :^^ 

Much casuistry may be indulged in as to the right and necessity of 
its doings. We must remember, however, that the arm of the law was 
not strong enough to extend to the people needed protection, and that, 
wherever it is a question, as it was then, whether peace and order shall 
prevail over crime and lawless spoliation, society may act in its ovna. 
defense, by the use of whatever means may be necessary to preserve its 
life by protecting or insuring personal safety and individual rights. 
Necessity knows no law. Whatever wrongs or mistakes may have been 
committed by the men constituting this organization, its existence was 
justified by the necessities of the times, and the salutary results accom- 
plished by it, must stand as its vindication. 

30 See Montana Historical Society, Contributions, V (1904), 235-252; 
also L. E. Munson, '' Pioneer Life in Montana," ihid., 200-234. 

31 See Montana Historical Society, Contributions, IV (1903), 109-121, 
especially p. 112. Much valuable Vigilante material is preserved in that 
historical series, and particular reference may be made to II (1896), 254; 
III (1900), 290-295; VIII (1917), 99-104. 

420 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Wherever the blame rested, it was corrected but slowly. Judge 
Brantley said that for many years public sentiment favored 
Vigilance Committees and seemed to oppose the infliction of the 
death penalty in all legal trials. 

Trimble collected many references to Committees of Vigilance 
in Montana, Oregon, and Idaho.^- The majority began their 
work with a system approximating that of the Committee of San 
Francisco. Throughout this region, however, there was a greater 
tendency for the associations to degenerate into instruments of 
political ambition or of private animosity, and some of them fell 
under the well merited condemnation of the public that at first 
supported them. 

An interesting development of the American trend towards 
extra-legal institutions took place in Louisiana in 1858 and 1859, 
but has received little attention from other than local historians. 
The events then enacted have been commemorated in an obscure 
volume by Alexandre Barde,^^ a French journalist of the parish 
of Saint-Jean-Baptiste in the district of Attakapas. As settle- 
ments expanded after the American occupation, disorders inci- 
dent to other frontiers appeared among the scattered villages: 
cattle thieves ravaged the unprotected grazing land ; robbers and 
incendiaries terrorized the growing towns ; and peaceful citizens 
met untimely deaths at the hands of desperate marauders. 

32 Trimble, Mining Advance, 242-245. Bancroft made a very inadequate 
survey of these regions in Popular Tribunals, I, chap. Ill (see also his 
History of Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming, 1890, 738). Cutler made scant 
allusion to them in Lynch-Law. Material may be found in F. Fry, Fi^y's 
Traveler's Guide, 1865, pp. 241-245; W. M. Turner, '^ Pioneer Justice in 
Oregon," Overland Monthly, XII (1874), 224-230; T. M. Marquett, 
' ' Effect of Early Legislation upon the Courts of Nebraska, ' ' Nebraska 
State Historical Society, Proceedings and Collections, ser. 2, I (1894-1895), 
104^105; Kansas State Historical Society, Transactions X (1907-1908), 
125, 131, 146; XI (1909-1910), 273; XIII (1913-1914), 261-262; J. E. 
Parker, ''Pioneer Protection from Horse Thieves," AnJials of Iowa, ser. 3, 
VI (1903), 59-62; G. F. Shafer, ''Early History of McKenzie County," 
North Dakota State Historical Society, Collections, IV (1913), 58-61. 

33 Alexandre Barde, Histoire des Comites de Vigilance aux AttaJcapas, 
1861. See also H. L. Griffin, "Vigilance Committees of the Attakapas 
Country," Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Proceedings, VIII 
(1914-1915), 146-159. 

Lynch Law as a N\ati(mal Frohlem 421 

One receives from the pages of Barde's Histoire des Comites 
de Yigilance the impression of a people and a society very dis- 
similar to the sturdy adventurers and the rugged communities 
of the Western pioneers. The land itself was a gentle and 
gracious domain, fringed with quiet bayous, shaded with noble 
forests, and responsive to cultivation. The colonists were typi- 
cally French in life and thought. The little hamlets clustered 
about their simple churches, paid deference to their local cures, 
and enjoyed more worldly pleasures with Gallic gaiety and 
optimism. Their laws were excellent, their magistrates were 
honorable. But the people were without traditional attachment 
to the jury system of the American regime ; the criminals among 
them were also of French descent, and the ties of blood were 
powerful! When clever advocates appealed to their volatile 
emotions they refused to convict men of their own race, and the 
guilty went unpunished. 

As a result, the district of Attakapas became a haven for 
desperadoes and by 1859 their defiance of restraint became open 
and intolerable. Then, by a curious affiliation with the social 
precedents of their northern neighbors, the French population 
which had proved itself so inept in the duties and privileges of 
American citizenship adopted with vigor the American institu- 
tion of organized and permanent Committees of Vigilance. One 
after another, a circle of neighboring parishes formed these 
Comites de Vigilance. They were instituted by men of position 
and respectability and were based, as were the associations in 
California, on written constitutions and regulations. Their 
historian, however, made little or no allusion to any imitation 
of California traditions. Suspects were ordered to leave the 
country; the defiant were whipped, and two or three murderers 
were executed. 

Barde and his collaborators were personal friends of the 
Vigilantes and were in thorough sympathy with their work. The 

422 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

episodes, however, are substantiated by many citations from the 
contemporary press. As a source of history on the subject of 
popular tribimals the volume deserves a place with more familiar 
narratives ; but in using it one must be alert to detect indications 
of an underlying antipathy to the national movement for 
abolition as well as a determination to suppress crime. The 
constitution of the earliest Comite, that of Cote Gelee, gave as 
one of the objects of organization, "Surveillance rigoureuse des 
blancs suspects dans leurs rapports avec les hommes de couleur 
ou les esclaves d'une moralite douteuse."^* After inflicting 
several well deserved punishments on French outlaws of par- 
ticular depravity, the Vigilantes shifted their attention to crim- 
inals who were emancipated Negroes, and to propagandists of 
liberation suspected of inciting the blacks to discontent and 

It is a curious circumstance in the development of our cosmo- 
politan people that the pages of this forgotten volume, written in 
an alien tongue by a foreign-born journalist, and descriptive of 
a society which lacked all Anglo-Saxon inheritances, should 
present with unexampled vividness the swift, subtle, and danger- 
ous transformation of the popular tribunals such as had pre- 
served order on the frontier, into intolerant associations deter- 
mined to control public opinion and personal liberty of action 
by the threat of punishment and death. A similar transforma- 
tion took place elsewhere in the South and Southwest during the 
years immediately before the Civil War. In Texas, for instance, 
so-called Vigilance Committees were in active operation against 
both criminals and abolitionists, while mob lynchings, without 
any semblance of unprejudiced trial, were constantly inflicted 
upon unpopular persons, both white and black. ^^ 

34 Barde, Histoire des Comites de Vigilance, 56. 

35 See Cutler, Lynch-Law, 119-124; G. P. Garrison, Texas, 1903, 214r-2,15', 
D. H. Hardy and I. S. Koberts, Historical Eeview of South-East Texas, 1910, 
I, 172-176, 385; J. F. Eippy, ''Border Troubles along the Eio Grande,'' 
Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXIII (1919), 103-104. 

Lynch Law as u National Problem 423 

Still further removed from the tribunals of the frontier, with 
their open trials and their public punishments, were the secret 
protective societies of the Southern whites during the unhappy 
days of Reconstruction, when the Knights of the White Camelia, 
the Ghouls of the Ku Klux Klan, and their confreres of similar 
societies, rode masked through the night and terrorized carpet- 
bag official and incautious freedman with outrages that shocked 
the entire land.^*^ In that tumultuous period, amid the conflicts 
and the travail of a younger generation, there emerged such 
varied problems and relations that the exigencies and the tradi- 
tions of the frontier were overshadowed by new phases of national 
development. Thereafter the West became year by year more 
populous, better policed, less afraid of high-handed violence, and 
less inclined to clamor for rigorous punishment of crime ; while 
the South, demoralized and embittered by the devastation of the 
war and confronted by the new terror of emancipated and dan- 
gerous Negroes, demanded swift and summary retribution upon 
every colored delinquent, and its mobs inflicted both whipping 
and death with a recklessness and ferocity that knew no parallel 
in the annals of the Western pioneers. ^^ 

The end is not yet, for the records of every j^ear of the 
twentieth century are stained with mob lynchings which for a 
moment horrify the entire country and are then quickly for- 

SG See J. C. Lester, and D. L. Wilson, Ku Klux Klan, ed. of 1905. A 
report on the Ku Klux Conspiracy in 13 volumes was made by a Congres- 
sional Committee, 1871-1872 (Cong. Docs., Ser. Nos. 1484-1496 or 1529- 

37 One of Cutler's charts shows that from 1882 to 1903, 1997 lynch 
executions occurred in the Southern states, and 363 in the Western, to which 
California contributed a quota of 31 {Lyncli-Law, 184-185). 

38 The study of lynching as an evidence of race hatred is particularly 
developed in Cutler's Lynch-Law, and in reports issued periodically by the 
Tuskegee Institute. The National Association for the Advancement of 
Colored People is also conducting a campaign to arouse public opinion. 

424 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

But why must these things be ? The necessity for them is not 
inherent in the temper of the races from which our people have 
been amalgamated, nor in the forms of civilization which they 
have. evolved elsewhere. Those who have studied the subject seem 
to agree that Ijruching, as it is carried on in this country, is a 
demonstration of group anger that is not characteristic of other 
nations which have achieved a corresponding plane of social 
advancement. Other communities with comparable standards 
may be subject to riots, mob violence, and sanguinary revolutions, 
but in the ordinary course of non-revolutionary existence they do 
not decide the fate of suspected criminals by the verdicts of 
popular tribunals, nor execute men, with deliberate premedita- 
tion, in open defiance of all restraints of law and order. 

Cutler stated categorically that at the time he wrote Europe 
as a whole was free from the practice of lynching except for 
certain customs prevalent among the peasants of Russia. ^^ Judge 
John D. Lawson said of the administration of English law : ' ' For 
seventy-five years, in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and in the 
colonies of the British Empire scattered all over the world, among 
peoples of all races and of all colors, no man 's life has been taken 
by what we call Lynch Law. "*^ Similar assertions are often 
repeated by both English and American writers."*^ so that, even 
if sporadic cases of lynching might be adduced in contradiction, 
it seems safe to assume that the accepted generalizations are 
indicative of a fundamental difference between a social organ- 
ization where mob executions are practically unknown and 

39 Cutler, Lynch-Law, 3. 

40 J. D. Lawson, ' ' Technicalities in Procedure, ' ' Journal of Criminal 
Law, I (1910), 83-84. 

41 As by William Eoberts. "Administration of Justice in America," 
Fortnightly Review, new ser. LI (1892), 91-108; H. A. Forster, ''Do Our 
Laws Protect Criminals? "Why the United States Leads the World in the 
Eelative Proportion of Murders, Lynchings and Other Felonies, and Why 
the Anglo-Saxon Countries Not under the American Flag Have the Least 
Proportion of Murders and Felonies, and KnoAv No Lvnchings, " American 
Law Beview, LI (1917), 239-248, especially p. 243. 

Lynch Law as a N\ation<il Problem 425 

another social organization where mob executions are of frequent 

Even upon the respective frontiers there is a contrast of 
methods and result. In spite of the circumstance that a pioneer 
chief justice of Montana acknowledged the necessity for popular 
tribunals on the American frontier, a student of comparative 
institutions must not ignore the fact that differing methods of 
social control have protected other frontiers from such dis- 
turbances as led in this country to the toleration of extra-legal 
punishment of crime. 

In New South Wales, for example, the authorities in 1851 
were confronted with the problem of preserving order among the 
thousands of miners who flocked to the newly discovered gold 
fields. They accomplished that tremendous task by a force of 
ten mounted troopers, under the command of a gold commis- 
sioner who had graduated from Oxford, was a colonist of experi- 
ence, and had been a police magistrate of Parramatta. This 
corporal's guard of Englishmen actually 'kept the peace over 
their whole territor}^, devised equitable and acceptable regula- 
tions, received and transported incalculable treasure, settled 
disputes, and gave criminals prompt trials by jury, usually on 
the scene of their offenses. In one instance of organized 
resistance, reinforcements were sent to their assistance and the 
rioters dispersed, but mob law and lynching were unknown. *- 
There were occasions of serious disorder in Victoria and resist- 
ance to the collection of licenses. In Sydney, also, many crimes 
of violence occurred. The San Francisco papers of 1852 spoke 
of lynch law as "rampant" in the Victoria gold fields, ^^ and 
Bancroft said that a Vigilance Committee was contemplated in 

42 See Rolf Bolderwood, '^ Genesis of Gold-Fields Law in Australia," 
Cornliill Magazine, new ser., Ill (1897), 612-623; A. L. Haydon, Trooper 
Police of Australia, 1911, especially chaps. 5, 6; Henrietta Huxley, ''Gold 
Diggings at Bathurst,'' Nineteenth Century, XLV (1899), 962-972. 

43 San Francisco Herald, 1852, May 29, %, citations from the Sydney 
Herald of Feb. 23, and the Geelong Advertiser, without exact date. 

426 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Sydney in 1853.** But the English colonists adopted no prac- 
tices that were really akin to the popular tribunals of the 
United States, and various writers plainly assert that such cus- 
toms have never been tolerated in Australia/^ 

In the gold fields of British Columbia the authorities checked 
crime and prevented lynching, although the population was very 
much like that of contiguous territories of the United States in 
which was waged a long conflict with criminals before order 
could be established. Trimble's study of coexistent conditions 
north and south of the national boundary showed that during 
the very days of the Vigilance Committees of Idaho and Montana, 
the courts of British Columbia were able to achieve prompt and 
exemplary punishment of crime and to afford adequate protec- 
tion to life and property. "Wherever the American miners found 
themselves on British soil they gladly acknowledged the efficiency 
of the constituted authorities and abandoned their wonted appeal 
to popular tribunals. The presiding judge of the British district 
bore witness that although the miners were dominated by Cali- 
fornia traditions, they ''manifested a great desire to see justice 
fairly done, and great patience with the difficulties which the 
magistrates and the judiciary have had to contend with." And 
again: ''There was on all sides a submission to authority, a 
recognition of the right, which, looking to the mixed nature of 
the population, and the very large predominance of the Cali- 
fornia element, I confess I had not expected to meet. "^"^ 

Trimble's final contrast of the two systems was exceedingly 
interesting. He said :*^ 

44 Popular Tribunals, 1, 19. 

45 As Edward Dowling, Australia and America in 1892, 1893, p. 58. 
4G l^YimhlQ, Mining Advance, 154. 

47 Ihid., 246-247. Directly in line with this summary of contrasting 
systems of frontier control is an address on the general subject of lynching 
by 0. C. Butler, who holds that the conditions which provoke such acts of 
vengeance rarely exist under strong, centralized governments. He character- 
izes the situations Avhich have incited the people of the United States to 

Lynch Law as a National Problem 427 

Eeviewing in conclusion, the prominent features of the different 
governmental forms applied under the British and under the American 
auspices in the mining advance, we see, on the one hand, government 
concentrated largely in the hands of an efficient executive, who made 
laws and organized administration on summary methods; on the other, 
representative government, under hampering conditions, working tardily 
and painfully towards order, and meeting local or occasional reinforcement. 
Under the former society was from the first under control, and there was 
a tendency to restrain individuals for the benefit of society — a restraint 
at times verging to over repression; under the latter individualism was 
feebly controlled from above, but had to generate within itself forces of 
order, and it tended to undue license hurtful to society. The American 
system developed a country the more swiftly, the British the more safely. 
Under both systems strong men labored courageously and well to adjust 
forms of order to unorganized society. 

adopt and continue popular tribunals, as ''a part of the price we pay for 
the full measure of the liberty we enjoy," but he insists that courage and 
intelligence may devise a cost less deadly, without forfeiting the prize of 
freedom, or adopting the methods of despotism (''Lynching," American 
Law Eeview, XLIV [1910], 200-220). 



Lynch law in some of its later developments has been hastily 
reviewed in the preceding chapter, for the purpose of setting 
the local episode of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance 
of 1851 in its proper place as an episode of the wider national life. 

The Committee of Vigilance was a confession of failure ! To 
that extent all who have considered it hold the same opinion. 
But the men who experienced for themselves the disordered days 
of its existence laid the failure upon unfaithful public servants 
who betrayed their trusts; students of a later period blamed the 
entire body politic which permitted power to pass into incom- 
petent or unworthy hands ; and the modern critics, grouping the 
episode with other manifestations of nation-wide recurrence, 
detect in it a failure of adjustment between the mechanism of 
social organization and the stress of complex and unusual con- 

When we turn from the special field of California history in 
the days of the Vigilantes to the recent studies of our national 
institutions, we find that faults hitherto attributed to local 
incompetency and corruption are recognized as everywhere latent 
in our whole scheme of social control.^ Everywhere the dread 
of autocracy has resulted in the distribution of power among 
so many state officials that it is well-nigh impossible to hold 
particular individuals responsible for undesirable conditions. 
Everywhere the same distrust of centralized authority has been 
expressed in the loose construction of local organization. Every- 
where the people must vote for many candidates whose qualifi- 

1 See references supra, % ; and Herbert Croly, Promise of American Life, 
1909, pp. 317-324. 

In Retrospect 429 

cations are practically unknown.^ Everywhere the political 
machines are frequently able to place unworthy men in office. 
Everywhere the laws most obviously fail to restrain crime by 
prompt and effective punishment.^ Everywhere, also, there is the 
danger that the flagrant miscarriage of justice in the courts may 
be turned into an excuse for riot and lynching whenever the 
American good humor and optimism give w^ay under the strain 
of conditions that suddenly become intolerable.* 

Wherever may rest the heaviest responsibility for these 
acknowledged faults — whether in imperfect organization, or in 
defective standards of citizenship — we are forced to admit that 
the practices of our democracy fall far short of the ideals of 
our people. 

It must not be thought, for an instant, that the nation is 
oblivious or indifferent to the dangers and defects which are 

2 See A. M. Kales, Unpopular Government in the United States, 1914 
pp. 25-44. ' 

3 The student of early conditions in California should acquaint himself 
with these current discussions. Valuable keys are furnished by the Index 
to Legal Periodicals, published by the American Bar Association; Eoscoe 
Pound, Bibliography of Procedural Eeform, 1917. See especially W. H. 
Taft, ''Administration of Criminal Law,'' Yale Law Review, XV (1905), 
1-17; Moorfield Story, Eeform of Legal Procedure, 1911; W. L. Eansom, 
''The Organization of the Courts for the Better Administration of Jus- 
tice," Cor?! e?Z Law Quarterly, II (1917), 186-201, 261-282; "Eeport of 
Committee on Criminal Procedure," Journal of Crimin-al Law, III (1912), 
566-591; Julius Goebel, Jr., "Prevalence of Crime in the United States^ 
and Its Extent Compared with That in the Leading European States," ibid 
III (1913), 75^769; H. E. Willis, "How Shall the People of the United 
States Reform Their Legal Procedure so as to Make It an Instrument of 
Justice?" t&id, VI (1915), 533-543; Eoscoe Pound, "Causes of Dissatis- 
faction with the Administration of Justice," American Bar Association, 
Eeport, 1906, 1, pp. 395-417. 

4 In a vigorous address before the District and County Attorneys Asso- 
ciation of Texas, H. W. Sumners held the faults of legal procedure' directly 
responsible for lynching. "The instinct of protection," he said, "is 
deeply implanted. Men surrender the right to protect themselves and avenge 
their wrongs to the state upon conditions, implied if not expressed, that the 
state will protect them and punish those Avho do them injury. What if the 
state doesn't do it?" (American Law Eeview, XLIII [1909], 455-466) 
See also Butler, as cited, ibid., XLIV (1910), 200-220; Walter Clark "True 
Eemedy for Lynch Law," ibid., XXVIII (1894), 801-807; Lawson, as 
cited, Journal of Criminal Law, I (1910), 63-85. 

430 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

asserting themselves with such frequency and boldness. Far 
from it! The daily papers, the popular periodicals, the profes- 
sional journals consider them with the most serious attention, 
learned societies investigate them, national congresses meet to 
discuss them, schools of social scientists conduct experiments in 
reform. Some strive to elevate the moral standards of the 
average man to the point where he will be stimulated to a faith- 
ful discharge of all his civic duties. Some seek to reduce the 
duties of citizenship to the point where the average man can 
faithfully discharge them without a ruinous sacrifice of his 
personal interests. Some would increase the power and the 
responsibility of the specialist and the expert, and some would 
fetter the hands of efficiency lest they serve the greed of private 
selfishness. Some are demanding that all questions of import- 
ance should be decided by the direct verdict of a majority of the 
sovereign people, and some are discussing the legitimate rights 
of the minority and asking what might be a workable definition 
of majority rule when for a moment the social group should 
consist of one honest traveler and two footpads.^ 

In California in 1849 and 1850 the strain to which the fabric 
of American life is always liable was raised to the iV*'' power. 
There was no local background of American tradition, and there 
was an unusual admixture of aliens who were entirely unpre- 
pared for the privileges and the duties of self-government. 
Many of these were actively vicious or constitutionally lazy, 
and differed radically from the tj^pe of ambitious peasant who 
came from Europe to America with the expectation of returning 
honest labor for the rewards of prosperity. Even with the 
American majority wonted standards of citizenship were greatly 

5 See L. A. Lawrence, Public Opinion and Popular Government, 1913, 
pp. 9-13. It is interesting to recall that Francis Lieber queried whether in 
defining liberty the emphasis should be laid on effectuating the will of the 
majority or on protecting the rights of the minority (On Civil Liberty and 
Self -Government, ed. of 1891, p. 31). 

In Retrospect 431 

affected by the absence of the normal restraints of domestic life, 
by the general anticipation of return to an Eastern home, and 
by the intense preoccupation in business of a highly speculative 

Owing to the confusion existing over land titles and the 
peculiar climatic conditions of the country, the people did not 
attach themselves to the soil, but fluctuated between the placers 
and the towns, with constant and rapid changes of residence, 
while the individual settlements had little chance to develop that 
stabilized public opinion which is the foundation of order under 
a democratic government. Nevertheless, in spite of the absence 
of such a constructive spirit within the social groups, and 
regardless of the fact that they were quite inexperienced in 
corporate life, the county communities were still entrusted with 
the heavy responsibilities involved in local autonomy, and the 
state was not equipped with any machinery whatever that could 
restrain their eccentricities oi- correct their mistakes.^ The courts 
themselves were more or less subject to control by the local 
electorate, and they were at the same time bound and hampered 
by those rigid rules of technical procedure that had become 
an acknowledged evil in the administration of justice throughout 
the nation. 

Many older communities entrenched within bulwarks of 
American tradition and enlightened in the duties of citizenship 
have capitulated to the demagogue and the perjurer. Who, then, 
can be surprised that the reckless stripling of the West, tolerant, 
sanguine, and self-absorbed, should have been worsted by the same 
insidious foes. And in truth the selfish and the lawless were not 
slow to avail themselves of every opportunity they detected in the 
situation. Adroit and ambitious politicians swiftly accomplished 
the organization of efficient machines which became permanent 

e'^Republieanism, here, may be literally said to have run mad, so 
ridiculously incapable is it of exercising control over the masses" (Prino-le 
Sham, Eamhlings in California [ca. 1860], 69). ^ * 

432 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

factors beneath the more shifting currents of commercial life. 
Expert criminals weighed the spoils of pillage against the costs 
of trials, robbed and murdered as they pleased, and paid expert 
counsel to entangle the courts in such a maze of technicalities 
that conviction was impossible and the fear of punishment 
deterred no man from the indulgence of his predatory impulses. 

Such influences, and many others, combined to emphasize 
every weakness inherent in the political system, to accentuate 
every disruptive force in the community, and to create a situation 
where the latent menace to the welfare of a group was quickly 
translated into an obvious menace to a large number of particular 

These endangered individuals had been trained by all the 
emergencies of the tumultuous life about them to act quickly 
rather than cautiously, and to decide the most momentous issues 
of life and death by the light of their own judgment or the hasty . 
vote of a small circle of associates. Unhesitating and intrepid 
action, prompted by absolute self-confidence, was the only key 
to success in California and from the moment the immigrant set 
foot within the state he seemed vitalized with a spirit that 
removed mountains in hand barrows, raised cities with the swift- 
ness of magic, and conceived railroad projects that staggered the 
imagination of the nation. "To say that it was a period of 
intense excitement does not describe it," remarked one of the 
pioneers concerning the spirit of '49. ''It was a raging, seething, 
red hot pandemonia, [sic] in which men struggled to accomplish 
their purpose in the shortest possible time. "^ 

Faced with the defiant triumph of lawlessness and crime, 
these men who had been schooled in audacity did not establish 
learned societies to analyze their social situation, nor summon a 
national congress to suggest remedies for their peril. 

Thej^ experimented ! 

7 C. R. Street, ^ ' Crossing the Plains in '49, ' ' in Associated Pioneers of 
the Territorial Days, Sixteenth Annual Meeting, 1891, p. 24. 

In Retrospect 433 

Their experiments, embodied in the Committee of Vigilance 
of 1851, were based on a modification of the precedents of the 
unorganized frontier, and an application of the resultant methods 
to a society already organized and equipped with the machinery 
of representative government. They were, to say the least, crude 
and radical. They were destructive of personal liberty, they 
inflicted punishment without due process of law, yet they were 
tolerated by the community because of the general desire for 
effective protection, and the general recognition of the good 
sense and sinceritj^ of the Vigilantes.^ 

In a curious fashion they suggest some of the modern attempts 
at political reform. Popular participation in the affairs of 
government, now legalized in certain matters by methods of 
initiative and referendum, was then illegally forced upon the 
judicial department of San Francisco by the action of the Com- 
mittee and the assent of the community. The object now attained 
by the process of recall was then effected by the expedient of 
taking over the work of the police officers and magistrates who 
had failed to preserve order. An approximation to the funda- 
mental idea of a commission form of government was developed 
in the various departments of the Executive Committee, with 
their subordination of responsibility to a few influential officers. 
A state-wide detective and police agency was instituted by the sub- 
committees for the pursuit and arrest of criminals. The Gordian 
knot of technicalities was severed by the admission of all evidence 
at its face value and the elimination of the privilege of appeal. 
Finally, the emancipation of municipal politics from party 
control was attempted when members of the Committee con- 
ducted an independent and effective campaign at the local 

8 ' < Lynch law in some of its manifestations is a form of private initia- 
tive in the enforcement of law, where the ordinary official machinery for its 
enforcement has broken down or is manifestly inefficient, though this 
method of law enforcement is, of course, at the same time a violation of 
law" (Mathews, State Administration, 414). 

434 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

If we compare the work accomplished by the Committee of 
Vigilance of 1851 with the purpose that incited its formation, 
we are compelled to characterize it as successful. Under its stern 
rule the city was for a time delivered from the reign of violence 
and from the terror of incendiary fires, and the state was so 
swifty rid of the cutthroats and robbers of the Stuart gang that 
many other brigands took warning from the experiences of that 
outlaw brotherhood. All this was accomplished with few exhibi- 
tions of disorder or riot, and no man suffered at the hands of the 
Committee a punishment heavier than the law imposed for the 
crimes of which he had been proved guilty. The members of the 
Committee felt no shame in acknowledging their work while they 
still ranged themselves under the symbol of the Watchful Eye, 
nor in later years when they reviewed their services as Vigilantes, 
and the community which had welcomed their protection in time 
of need never repudiated their efforts after the emergency had 

Yet the Committee of Vigilance was a confession of failure, 
as is every political scandal, every parody of justice, every 
lynching throughout the country. It was not, necessarily, the 
failure of the people to use with honest endeavor the social tools 
■within their grasp, but their failure to perfect the full equipment 
of tools required in their task of self-government. The realiza- 
tion of a similar failure is today stirring the whole nation to 
constructive criticism and to strenuous experimentation. 

One of the vital and perplexing problems of the hour is the 
control of the constantly recurring mob clamor for illegal exe- 
cutions. Each act of lawless lynching is sternly condemned by 
the country at large, and is usually defended by local champions 
on the ground of special and urgent necessity. In discussing the 
subject it has been said :^ 

Forster, as cited, American Law Beview, LI (1917), 239-248. 

In Retrospect 435 

To understand popular tribunals and lynchings, the attitude of the 
vigilantes and their responsible supporters and neighbors is of more 
weight than that of the outlaws or the formal legalistic critics of the 
vigilantes who confine their activity to destructive criticism and make 
no attempt to remedy the underlying causes that have led to popular 
tribunals, popular justice or extra legal criminal justice in forty-four 
of our forty-nine continental states and territories. 

It is doubtful if there exist any records in which the ' ' attitude 
of the Vigilantes and their responsible supporters" can be more 
thoroughly studied than in the archives of the Committee of 
Vigilance, which in this volume have been given a concrete sum- 
mary and a background of local history. The acts of that illegal 
tribunal were deliberate and cautious, they were quite removed 
from the influence of racial antagonism between black and white, 
and they made no sentimental appeal on the ground of punishing 
revolting crimes against women. Taken as a whole they present 
a series of episodes in which a well defined national tendency 
can be reviewed with extraordinary fullness and unbiased judg- 

It seems almost an injustice to associate even remotely the 
self-restrained members of the Committee of Vigilance with a 
blood-crazed mob that reverts to the vengeance of savages, and 
some of the differences between them are absolutely fundamental.. 
It is unquestionably true that the precedents established by the 
San Francisco Committee of Vigilance have led other unorganized 
communities to interpose a quasi-representative and permanent 
body of responsible men between defiant outlaws and an out- 
raged public, and to effect salutary punishment of crime with a 
minimum of disorder and cruelty.^^ But it is equally true that 

10 An interesting article by George Kennan entitled ''A Eussian Experi- 
ment in Self -Government, " seems to invoke the very specters of the Vigi- 
lantes in an account of the '^Amur California," in a No Man's Land of 
Manchurian gold fields. The placers were discovered in 1883 and were 
quickly thronged with cosmopolitan miners and escaped Siberian convicts. 
Pandemonium resulted, and after tentative experiments a popular organiza- 
tion was effected in February, 1885: organic laws were adopted, ofl&cials 

436 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

the very restraint of the members of the Committee of San Fran- 
cisco, the wide scope of their work, and the tolerance accorded 
to them by a large and intelligent center of population have 
tended to endow with the dignity of an accepted national insti- 
tution those emergency methods which the Vigilantes borrowed 
from revolutionary or pioneer communities. Even now their 
example is often cited by restive and irresponsible members of 
well established societies who in times of supposed crisis are 
moved to express hysterical racial antagonism or sporadic protest 
against the chronic shortcomings of their judicial system. 

From whatever angle it may be viewed, the fact must be 
recognized that the work of the Committee of Vigilance was too 
spectacular to sink into oblivion, and that it still exercises a 
distinct influence upon the popular mind. It has therefore 
seemed important that its history should be presented in detail, 
based on the authentic records of its daily doings, stripped as 
far as might be possible of false glamour and false condemnation, 
and fairly related to the causes which engendered it. 

The body of men who styled themselves the Committee of 
Vigilance of San Francisco were men who believed in the su- 
premacy of law. Many of them had extemporized law when 
denied the ordinary protection of established society and had 
formulated law when the opportunity for self-organization ar- 
rived. They had appointed representatives to execute the law, 
after the manner of American citizens, and no survey of their 
work has yet proved that as citizens they consciously betrayed 
their city and state to violence and corruption. But when the 
laws they had created failed to protect them from the onslaughts 

chosen, and the penalties of death and flogging were administered with rigor. 
Order was quickly enforced, and for nearly a year the isolated republic 
conducted its own affairs with marked success, but perished in a week before 
a hostile movement of the Chinese government, which saw with apprehension 
the introduction of unwelcome neighbors and customs upon its borderland 
{Atlantic Monthly, LXXX [1897], 494^507). 

In Retrospect 437 

of criminals, they put the immediate welfare of the community 
above their allegiance to the formulated laws, and did to the 
outlaws among them the things that seemed right in their own 

That, as I understand it, was the spirit of the men who 
constituted the Committee of Vigilance. It is not a spirit which 
has been confined to a single decade of United States history, 
to a single section of the frontier, or even to the whole frontier 
region as distinguished from the areas of denser population. Of 
whatever vice or virtue it may be the outward and visible sign, 
it is a spirit which is still alive in the land, and with which 
reckoning must be made by those entrusted with the responsi- 
bilities of social leadership. It is capable of developing tremen- 
dous dynamic energy, and under provocation will assert itself 
with destructive ferocity unless restrained by physical force. 

But the curbing of this spirit, which has manifested itself 
from the time of the Regulators to the yesterdays of 1920, is not 
so much a matter of heavy-handed restraint as of the elimination 
of provocation. The realization of the fact that such men as 
Stuart, Adams, and Jimmy from Town, time and again defied 
the people in their very courts created the impulse that moved 
Brannan and Bluxome and Coleman and Payran to teach those 
rascals a wholesome fear of the wrath of the community, and 
made the men of San Francisco listen with stern approval to 
the tapping of the Monumental bell. The realization of the fact 
that the most vicious criminal can today evade swift and certain 
punishment creates the impulse that now draws within the circle 
of lynchers men, and even women, whose lives are normally 
gentle and humane. If that conviction were destroyed, the will 
to lynch might remain as a social danger, but it would be so 
universally condemned by the better element of the people that 
both preventive and punitive measures might be adopted for its 

438 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

It is not the province of the historian of the Committee of 
Vigilance to prophesy what steps must be taken before the people 
may regard their political institutions as safeguards against cor- 
ruption, and their courts as temples of justice rather than as 
sanctuaries for the fugitive from righteous punishment. In this 
Year of the Independence of the United States one hundred and 
fortj^-five the precedents of the past are not to be accepted as 
unerring guide posts towards the future development of Amer- 
ican democracy. Old issues are swiftly sinking into oblivion, 
and new problems are arising that will test afresh the elasticity 
of our institutions and the temper of our people. But in spite 
of every failure of our political system, in spite of civic lassitude, 
in spite of standards of thought and action divergent from the 
past, in spite of commercial greed, of evasion of laws, of mob 
frenzy and brutal lynchings, one may say with confidence that 
our people still strive to carry on within the borders of their 
land the unending struggle between the constructive and de- 
structure forces of society. For this reason no effort is wasted 
or ill-advised that seeks to set clearly before their minds the 
actions and reactions which transmute subtle and primary 
elements into the visible phenomena of their daily lives. 

The Committee of Vigilance of 1851 was a phenomenon that 
has been visible and familiar to every reader of California his- 
tory, but its vital significance has largely been obscured by its 
atmosphere of picturesque melodrama and its detachment from 
historical criticism. It was the confession of the failure of aver- 
age men to control the unusually disruptive forces in their special 
community by the restraining influences of the form of govern- 
ment commonly practiced in the United States. It was also an 
experiment in correction, reflecting existing theories of popular 
sovereignty, and forecasting less explosive experiments of a later 
day. For a short time its influence in San Francisco and in 
California was undoubtedly productive of public quiet and 

In Retrospect 439 

safety. When another and more acute crisis arose in San Fran- 
cisco in 1856, the framework of the Committee of 1851 formed 
the nucleus of a much larger body which brought under the 
discipline of its secret tribunal men of power and influence, and 
established practical and permanent political reforms. In other 
pioneer communities, as Colorado, Montana, and Nevada, the 
exercise of lynch law common to all the American frontier bor- 
rowed from the precedents set by the San Francisco Committee 
of Vigilance a decorum of procedure, and an element of restraint 
that prevented some of the worst evils incident to such an irre- 
sponsible code. 

But with all this to its credit, the Committee of Vigilance 
was not a beacon light on the pathway of constructive reform; 
and as an experiment the real force of its lesson has been ob- 
scured, because the lawlessness and danger of its methods have 
diverted its critics from attention to the inherent weakness of 
organization that originally caused the breakdown of govern- 
ment in California. More than this — it must also be acknowl- 
edged that as an influence in American life surviving the emerg- 
encies of unprotected frontiers, the Committee, itself, became a 
menace to organized society, for the sincerity of the men who 
formed it, and the partial if temporary success of their efforts 
have diverted many of their admirers from a true valuation of 
the destructive measures which they employed. Yet in view of 
our own experiences in inefficiency, and our laborious and pro- 
crastinating efforts at improvement, it seems fair to place the 
emphasis of sig-nificance on the structural weakness and conse- 
quent breakdown of a social system rather than on the errors 
of those who experimented with readjustment. 

Whatever might be the meed of praise or censure that the 
world should pass upon their deeds, the Vigilantes awaited the 
verdict unflinchingly, meeting with open faces the friends and 
foes upon their city streets, and setting their names to the records 

440 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

of their work, that men in other places and in other days might 
read and understand. They usurped power, but they exercised 
it without tyranny. They avenged crime, but they did so with- 
out cruelty. They disregarded the laws which had been formu- 
lated for the public good, but they felt themselves bound in 
solemn responsibility to the people who, behind those laws, repre- 
sented to their minds the symbol of ultimate sovereignty. 

To that self-imposed responsibility they were consistently 
faithful. They appealed unto the People. Let the People take 
warning from their errors, but give tribute to their sincerity 
and daring. 



The following notes have been compiled from accessible sources,i with 
the purpose of showing the type of men who made up the rank and file 
of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851. Members of particular prominence 
are mentioned in the chapter on organization, and many more might be 
noted with interest and profit if the limits of this volume permitted. It 
would be a valuable addition to the archives of the Committee if relatives 
of Vigilantes would contribute biographical data to be filed with the 
original documents in the Bancroft Library. 

The names are arranged in the order of signature to the constitution. 
A second number printed in brackets indicates a variation in the identi- 
fication number used by the sergeant-at-arms (see supra, p. 192 note 10). 

5. Of George J. Oakes we know little, except that he was a member of 
the firm of Endicott, Green and Oakes, was a foreman of the Empire 
Engine Company Number 1 (Broderick's), that he served on the Executive 
Committee until the date of his death, October 26 or 27, 1851, and that 
the Committee sent to his mother an eloquent letter of condolence which was 
probably the most gentle document indited ''In behalf of the Committee 
of Vigilance of San Francisco." The fire companies and the Vigilantes 
paraded at his funeral, and the rooms of the Committee were draped in 
mourning in deference to his memory (Papers, 681-686; Herald, 1851, 
Oct. 28-30). 

9. James C. Ward, a former member of Stevenson's Eegiment, served 
on the Executive Committee and sometimes filled the place of secretary or 
chairman. In 1854 he acted as president of the San Francisco and Mission 
Plank Road (Herald, April 27). At a later period he was a notary public, 
and became quite wealthy. Swasey said he was a man of education, and 
possessed some literary ability (Early Days, 272). In 1878 he published 
his ''Recollections" in the San Francisco Argonaut. He died in Massa- 
chusetts in 1883. 

1 The Constitution and By-Laws of the Society of California Pioneers, 
as revised in 1912, has been followed for dates of arrival in California, 
and the California Blue Bool: for 1907 has furnished records of members 
of the state legislature. Other sources of information are mentioned in 
the text. 

442 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

12. The name of E. S. Watson, of Macondray and Company, made 
little impression on the archives of the Committee. Josiah Royce knew him 
in later years, and learned interesting details of the Jansen affair, of Feb- 
ruary, 1851, and of the inception of the Committee of Vigilance. Watson, 
under the pseudonym of * 'Justice," made the stirring suggestions in the 
Alia of June 8, that greatly promoted the organization of the Committee 
(see infra, p. 456, and Royce, California, 412-421). His ideals of duty may 
be inferred from the fact that he risked his life, on a stormy day, to deliver 
the anchor he had promised to a departing vessel (Knower, Adventures, 

14. Edward A. King, a sea captain, arrived in California in November, 
1846. He was successively an agent for underwriters, a lumber dealer in 
Monterey in 1848, and harbor master of San Francisco in 1849. A copy 
of a table of arrivals made from his records for the Society of Pioneers 
furnishes valuable and unique statistics for the period of his administration 
(see supra, p. 123; Bancroft, California, IV, 700. The register of the 
Society of California Pioneers corrects Bancroft's date of arrival). 

24 [20]. James T. Ryan was prominently identified with lumber inter- 
ests in Humboldt County, where he was a partner of James R. Duff, Vigi- 
lante number 169. He served as a Democratic state senator, 1860 and 
1861, and died at Vallejo, February 6, 1875 (Carr, Pioneer Days, 442; San 
Francisco Chronicle, 1915, Oct. 3, Magazine p. 6). 

26 [22]. George H. Howard was a Democratic assemblyman, 1865-1866. 

35 [31]. James F. Curtis, a native of Boston, and a '^ Territorial 
Pioneer" of 1850, was a partner of J. D. Farwell (see note on Farwell, 
number 89). He assisted in arresting the first prisoner of the Committee 
of Vigilance, served on the Executive Committee, and was active in the 
reorganization of 1856. Subsequently he was for two years chief of police 
in San Francisco. He became a brigadier general in the Federal army in 
the Civil War, and commanded the national guard of Idaho during the riots 
at the Coeur d'Alene mines in 1892 (Alia California, 1858, November 7 %; 
8%; 11 %] 1877, Aug. 27 Vq', Popular Tribunals, II, Index; G. E. French, 
''Coeur d^Alene Riots," Overland Monthly, ser. 2, XXVI (1895), 32-40; 
biographical note, ibid, 109). 

44 [40]. James C. L. Wadsworth was bom in Litchfield, Connecticut, 
and came to California in 1847, as a sutler in Stevenson's Regiment. In 
1848 and 1849 he worked in the southern mines, then established himself 
in business in Stockton and was elected second alcalde in the spring of 
1849. Later he engaged in banking in San Francisco. He was a member 
of Broderick's fire company and was one of the first to suggest the forma- 
tion of the Society of California Pioneers. Later he held important posi- 
tions in Nevada mining companies, was appointed secretary to the State 
Board of Harbor Commissioners in California in 1883, and subsequently 

Biographical Notes 443 

served as a commissioner of insurance. He was a staunch Democrat, a loyal 
Union man, and a prominent Mason. He dictated a brief statement Avhicli 
has a place in the Bancroft collections (Swasey, Early Days, 242-245; Alta, 
1864, April 13 i/i; San Francisco Call, 1883, March 22 % ; 23 %). 

55 [51]. Dr. Victor J. Fourgeaud was born in Charleston, South Caro- 
lina, February 1, 1816. He was educated in France and in South Carolina 
(Swasey, Early Days, 274). He undertook the overland trip in 1847, and 
had the courage to take with him his wife and child. He published several 
descriptions of California which may be called the first steps in the 
advertisement of the state (Eldredge, California, III, 181-182. Extracts 
reprinted in l7i Memoriam [of] Dr. Victor J. Fourgeaud, by the Society 
of California Pioneers). One of the earliest authoritative announcements 
of the discovery of gold was made in a long article on the advantages of 
California which he published in the California Star, April 1, 1848, but 
the author's career as a miner was quickly terminated by illness. He Avas 
conspicuous in the rising against the Hounds, but took no important part 
in the activities of the Committee of Vigilance, although his early member- 
ship gives interesting proof of the attitude towards the society of a quiet, 
scholarly man whose family was already in the city. He was a Republican 
member of the state assembly in 1857. Obituary, Alia, 1875, Jan. 3 %. 

83 [79]. Jesse Seligman, was senior member of a firm of importers, 
and subsequently established a banking house (Colville's Directory, 1856; 
Eldredge, California, V, 446). 

89 [85]. James D. Farwell and his partner, James F. Curtis (number 
35) were merchants. They suffered in the fire of May, 1851, but were 
not ruined, because their store was built over the water, and in anticipation 
of such a catastrophe, they always kept lighters alongside, and so salvaged 
most of their stock before the building was destroyed. Farwell was not 
an important member of the Committee of '51, but played a larger role in 
that of '56, which he entered as a ''sacred duty" although conscious of 
the heavy responsibility assumed by such a defiance of established law (see 
his MS Statement; Popular Tribunals, Index). 

92 [88]. Jacob Primer Leese was a representative of the old regime, 
as he arrived in California in 1833, was naturalized as a Mexican citizen, 
married a daughter of the Vallejo family, and was the father of Rosalia, 
the first white child born in Yerba Buena» He was alcalde of Sonoma in 
1844-1845, acted as a sub-agent for Larkin in 1846, and was elected in 1847 
as a member of the Sonoma town council. He was a bold man, but had 
little education and ultimately lost the fortune he had made in trade and 
mining, as well as that inherited by his wife (Bancroft, California, IV, 
710-711; Annals, 171; Leese, ''Reminiscences," Alia, 1865, March 30, p. 1). 

107 [105]. Henry F. Teschemacher came to California from Boston in 
1842. His work as a member of the Executive Committee was inconspicuous. 

444 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

but he became a man of wealth and sufficiently important in the city to 
serve as president of the board of supervisors from 1859 to 1861, and as 
mayor, 1862 to 1863. Much of his later life was spent in foreign travel. 
Bancroft found surprisingly little record of so prominent a pioneer {Califor- 
nia, V, 745. See also, Swasey, Early Bays, 270; Alta, 1863, July 2 %', 
obituary, San Francisco Chronicle, 1904, Nov. 29 i%). 

116 [115]. William H. Graham was a man of notable pugnacity. In 
January, 1851, he had fought a duel with William Walker, one of the 
editors of the Herald (Alta, Jan. 14 %). For this he was tried and 
acquitted (Herald, Aug. 11 %). On July first the Herald printed in its 
advertising columns the following: 

Card. — Old Alcalde's Building, west side of Portsmouth Square, 
July 1, 1851. 

I hereby post and publish George Frank Lemon as a scoundrel, 
villain, liar and poltroon, and declare him to be out of the pale of 
gentlemen's society. 

William H. Graham. 

The issue of July 3 noted that the editor understood that Mr. Graham was 
doing very well, and though suffering much from his wounds was entirely 
out of danger. Later allusions showed that this encounter was a rather 
plebeian street fight that resulted in arrest for assault with intent to kill 
(Herald, July 26 %-, Sept. 14 %). The ethics of the code were finally 
observed in a pistol duel at Benicia, where at the seventh round Graham 
satisfied his honor by slightly wounding his antagonist (Herald, Sept. 15 %). 
Fortunately the truculent gentleman developed no quarrel within the ranks 
of the Committee. 

126 [125]. Owen P. Sutton was born in 1821 in the state of New York. 
He arrived in California in April, 1849, mined for a time, and then estab- 
lished himself in business in San Francisco. He was vice-president of the 
Democratic mass meeting held October 25, 1849. When his firm was burned 
out in the fire of May, 1851, their loss was estimated at $125,000. From 
1853 to 1858 he was an appraiser of the port, and in 1863 he was a member 
of the state assembly. He died September 1, 1881 (Annals, 236; San Fran- 
cisco Call, 1890, Sept. 8 %. 

129 [128]. Alfred J. Ellis was born in New York in 1816. He came 
to San Francisco in April, 1847, after some years in New Zealand and the 
Pacific islands. He was a member of the popular legislative assembly in 
San Francisco in the spring of 1849, took part in the trial of the Hounds, 
joined the California Guard, was elected to the ayuntamiento in August, 
and was a delegate to the constitutional convention. He was an active 
member of the Executive Committee of the Committee of Vigilance but 
resigned in November, 1851, as a sequel to his election to the legislature. 
In 1852 he received seventeen votes as a delegate to the presidential con- 

Biographical Notes 445 

vention of the Whig party (Swasey, Early Days, 272; Davis, Political Con- 
ventions, 16; obituary, San Francisco Call, 1883, July 30 %). 

132 [131]. Captain Henry M. Naglee, a native of Philadelphia, was a 
graduate of the Military Academy at West Point. Although he was engaged 
in civil pursuits at the outbreak of the Mexican War, he came to California 
as a captain in Stevenson's Regiment, and distinguished himself in active 
service in Lower California. In January, 1849, he opened the first banking 
house in San Francisco, but was obliged to suspend payment in a financial 
panic, September, 1850. He took no active part in the business of the Com- 
mittee until near the close of its existence. He received a commission as 
brigadier general of volunteers in the Civil War, and after his return to 
California at its close, made a great success in the culture of wine grapes, 
the manufacture of brandy, and the development of the agriculture of the 
Santa Clara Valley. In politics he was a Democrat (Swasey, Early Days, 
219-229; Annals, 289; Love Life of Brig. Gen. Henry M. Naglee, 1867). 

136 [135]. Alfred L. Tubbs was a member of the state senate, 1865- 

144 [142]. Thomas K. Battelle was of a different type. At the time 
of the first fire, December 24, 1849, his gambling saloon was destroyed, and 
while the city was still blazing he rented another building, extinguished the 
flames that already threatened it, and opened for business without delay. 
In 1850 he was an assistant fire engineer in the volunteer department. Dur- 
ing the term of the Committee of Vigilance he was proprietor of the Pioneer 
Club House and furnished refreshments, more or less spirituous in their 
composition, to his fellow Vigilantes (Annals, 617; Schenck, MS Statement, 
49-50; notice of his departure from San Francisco, Alta, 1855, June 16 %). 

155 [153]. J. Mead Huxley came to California in Stevenson's Regiment 
and again volunteered for military duty during the Civil War, when he 
served as a commissioned ofiicer (Bancroft, California, III, 792). 

157 [155]. Charles Minturn arrived in San Francisco in October, 1849. 
He engaged in the commission business, was an alderman in 1850, and acted 
as agent for Sacramento steamers. An attempt to rob his office has been 
described on page 312 {Annals, 273; Kimball's Directory, 1850). 

169 [167]. James R. Duff came from Boston around Cape Horn and 
arrived in San Francisco in July, 1849. Three days of hard work in the 
mines prostrated him with sunstroke, and he returned to San Francisco 
and started business as a contractor and builder, forming a partnership 
with James T. Ryan (number 24). His interesting account of one of the 
most exciting episodes of '51 is incorporated in an earlier chapter (see 
supra, p. 300). So far as he could ascertain he was the last survivor of 
the Committee of 1851. He died at the age of ninety-two, on August 9, 
1917 (Carr, Pioneer Days, 442; San Francisco Chronicle, 1915, Oct. 3, Maga- 
zine p. 6). 

446 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

170 [176]. James Dows arrived from New York in December, 1849, 
and established himself in a wholesale liquor business. It is said that his 
safe was robbed by the Sydney thieves of about $10,000 before the organ- 
ization of the Committee of Vigilance. He was a straightforward, sincere 
and capable man, and was blessed with a saving gift of humor. Coleman 
said that at one time the Committee was discussing the fate of a Mexican 
boy charged with theft, and each speaker was limited to a single period of 
five minutes. While the prisoner 's life hung in the balance, Dows, who had 
already addressed the chair, gained the floor by a subterfuge and drawled 
out: ** Gentlemen, I do not wish to fatigue you; I beg merely to say that 
it takes no longer to hang a man than to whip one. ' ' The resulting laugh 
cleared the atmosphere, and the culprit was released with a reprimand (MS 
Statement, 26-27). Dows did good service in both Committees, and suits 
were brought against him as a sequel to his actions in '56 {Popular 
Tribunals, I, 377-378; II, 127, 613-617). 

172 [169]. John O. Earl, and his brother, 

173 [170]. E. M. Earl, from New Jersey, were pioneers of 1849. Their 
business was burned out in the two fires that occurred in May, 1850 and 
1851. Neither were conspicuous in '51, but John was active in the reorgan- 
ization of '56. He was interested in the establishment of San Francisco 
schools, was a well-known Mason, and so loyal to the Union that he left 
the Democratic party and joined the Eepublican after the outbreak of the 
Civil War (Phelps, Contemporary Biography, II, 311-314). 

176 [177]. George H. Blake was a Democratic assemblyman in 1853. 

178 [176]. James Neall, Jr. arrived in May, 1849, and remained in 
San Francisco as a merchant. He dictated for Bancroft many interesting 
reminiscences of the early days and a most valuable account of the first 
steps in the formation of the Committee of Vigilance, although, strange to 
say, his name does not appear in the documents, except upon the roll of 
members (see infra, pp. 457-458). 

188. Charles V. Gillespie, a native of New York, came with his wife 
to San Francisco in February, 1848, after seventeen years of voyaging 
between New YcPrk and China, and in Oriental waters. He took charge 
of the Leidesdorff estate shortly after his arrival, and in September, 1848, 
he served on a conmiittee to petition Congress for a mint. Bancroft 
described him as a quiet, intellectual man, who did more important work 
in '56 than in the earlier organization. He dictated a Statement for the 
Bancroft collection, but it touches very briefly on the work of '51 {Popular 
Tribunals, II, 130; Robinson, Calif ornia and Its Gold EegioTis, Appendix, 
p. 126). 

194. Andrew J. Grayson, from Louisiana, brought his wife and child 
to California in an overland wagon train of 1846. He served as a lieutenant 
in Fremont's Mounted Eiflemen, but was stationed in San Francisco during 

BiogTaphioal Notes 4:^1 

hostilities, and at their close he opened a stationery store in the town. He 
was one of the many unnamed participants in the work of the Committee. 
In later life he gained scientific renown as an ornithologist. Swasey spoke 
with admiration of his fine physique, abstemious habits and scholarly 
education. He died in Mazatlan in 1869 (Swasey, Early Days, 209-210; 
Bancroft, California, III, 764). 

193. F. C. Bennett may have been the Francis C. Bennett elected one 
of the city assessors in May, 1850, and a Whig assemblyman, in the second 
legislature, 1851 {Annals, 273). 

196. Jean Jacques Vioget, a Swiss, had been in California since 1837. 
He made the first survey of San Francisco. He was also a sailor and a 
hotel keeper of some skill, spoke several languages and loved music. He 
removed from San Francisco and was granted leave from the Committee in 
February, 1852 (Bancroft, California, V, 764). 

199. George H. Hossefross w^as a pioneer of 1849. He was elected 
to the Executive Committee towards the close of activities in 1852, and 
renewed his connection wdth the association in 1856. He served as chief 
of the united San Francisco engine companies in 1852 and 1853 {Popular 
Tribunals, II, 474; Annals, 618; Alta, 18o3, Sept. 14 %; Oct. 16 %; obit- 
uary, Alta, 1864, March 19-21; sketches. Argonaut, 1877, June 23 %; San 
Francisco Call, 1890, Dec. 22 %; Pendleton, Exempt Firemen, 10, portrait). 

228. Cyrus Palmer was born in Maine in 1828. He arrived in San 
Francisco in August, 1849, and for three years was connected with the 
business of Macondray and Company, but later established wdth his brother 
an important foundry of their own. He aided in organizing the first fire 
company, was a Eepublican member of the assembly in 1857, 1858, and 
1863, and was an officer of the Howard Street Presbyterian Church (Phelps, 
Contemporary Biography, II, 274r-275). 

243. E. V. Joice arrived in January, 1849 and w^as sufficiently prominent 
in the fall to serve as a vice-president of the Democratic mass meeting, 
October 25 {Annals, 236). 

259. Dr. Galen Burdell arrived from New York in August, 1849, and 
attained a successful practice as the first scientific dentist in San Francisco 
(Eldredge, California, IV, 476, portrait). 

268. Henry M. Gray, born in New York in 1821, was the son of a 
clergyman. He arrived in November, 1849, indulged in a brief experiment 
in mining, and then devoted himself to medicine in San Francisco, where 
he is said to have built up the largest practice in the city. He was quickly 
identified with the Whig party, served on the general and state central 
committees, was considered as a candidate for mayor in 1852, and was 
nominated but defeated for that office in the following year. He was a man 
of marked generosity and of cultured tastes, a connoisseur in music, litera- 
ture and works of art, an eloquent speaker, a prominent Mason, and the 

448 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

eighth president of the Society of California Pioneers. He died September 
24, 1863 (Shuck, Eepresentative Men, 479-493, portrait; San Francisco Call, 
1890, Sept. 8 34). 

273. Timothy Guy Phelps, born in the state of New York in 1824, 
arrived in California in December, 1849. He mined for a time, and then 
entered the commission business in San Francisco. He became an important 
Eepublican politician, served several terms in the state senate and assembly, 
was a candidate for the nomination for governor in 1861, ran for that 
oflice, unsuccessfully, in 1875; was a member of Congress in 1861-1863, and 
collector of the port of San Francisco in 1869. He was a man of great 
Avealth, and a regent of the State University at the time of his death, 
June 11, 1899 (Eldredge, California, IV, 156, portrait; Phelps, Contempo- 
rary Biography, II, 15-16). 

283. Arthur M. Ebbets was born in New York in 1830, arrived in San 
Francisco in August, 1849, and made such an immediate success as a com- 
mission merchant, that in 1851 he established a branch house in New York. 
He served as county recorder in 1861, was supervisor in 1874, a director 
and president of the Mercantile Library, and a president of the Society of 
California Pioneers. He was active in supporting the Union during the 
Civil War (Swasey, Early Bays, 297-301; San Francisco Call, 1890, Sept. 
8 %). 

287. At the age of thirty-two, William D. M. Howard was one of the 
most prominent, and one of the best loved men in California. He was a 
native of Boston, and had been identified with the commercial interests of 
the Pacific Coast since January, 1839. After the gold discovery, the firm 
of Howard and Melius, which had purchased the old property of the Hudson 
Bay Company, had the most extensive merchandise business in the state, 
but Howard retired from business in 1850. Although unambitious for 
political power, he was always interested in public affairs, and his name 
often appeared in connection with the earlier history of San Francisco. He 
promoted the establishment of schools, of the first orphan asylum, and of 
the fire department, donated the lot for a Presbyterian church, and urged 
and contributed to the improvement of city streets. He was infl.ucntial 
in founding the California Guard, and was the first president of the Society 
of California Pioneers. On the Committee of Vigilance he did no recorded 
work but was appointed to one important subcommittee, and was placed 
on the Executive Committee in September, 1851. He never attended any 
Executive meetings, and his inability to do so served as an excuse for an 
early resignation. He died January 19, 1856 (Annals, 779-780, portrait; 
Swasey, Early Days, 151-155; Bancroft, California, III, 788-789; Davis, 
Sixty Years, 314-327; Eldredge, California, II, 470, portrait; sketches, San 
Francisco Bulletin, 1897, April 3 i%; San Francisco Call, 1890, Sept. 8 %; 
Pendleton, Exempt Firemen, 74-77, portrait). 

Biographical Notes 449 

299. James S. Wethered, a pioneer of August, 1849, was a Whig 
assemblyman in the second legislature. He did inconspicuous, but faithful 
work in the ranks of the General Committee, and incidentally indulged in 
a harmless duel with Captain Schaeffer in September, 1851. He was an 
inspector of customs in 1852, and became a brother-in-law of the Wood- 
worths. He died January 14, 1900 (Swasey, Early Days, 217; Parker's 
Directory, 1852; Herald, 1851, Sept. 14 %). 

303. Henry Gerke was a German immigrant, who arrived in California 
August, 1847. He later became a vineyardist in Tehama County (Ban- 
croft, California, III, 755). 

304. Francis Hoen was a member of the famous Swasey-Todd party 
which reached California in September, 1845. For a time he was employed 
by Sutter, then became a resident of Monterey and was there a candidate 
for treasurer in October, 1846. Later he kept a cigar store in San Francisco 
(Bancroft, California, III, 786; V, 295 note 5). 

324. Mathew P. Burns was a well-known physician. He dictated a 
Statement for Bancroft. 

331. Edward A. Suwerkrop was the Danish consul (ParTcer's Directory, 

349. Samuel Fleishhacker had already placed his family name on the 
list of prominent merchants of San Francisco. He was an uncle of Hubert 
and Mortimer Fleishhacker. 

361. Charles L. Wiggin reached California in August, 1849. He served 
as an assemblyman in the legislature, 1865 to ]866. 

403. William M. Lent arrived in April, 1849. He was a Democratic 
state senator in 1854. 

414. John P. Manrow arrived in April, 1849, and participated in the 
trial of the Hounds. He dictated reminiscences of the Committees of Vigi- 
lance for Bancroft, but they are not very valuable for the work of '51. 

437. Eichard M. Jessup arrived in July, 1849. He was a Republican 
assemblyman in 1857. 

440. John Middleton reached San Francisco in September, 1849, and 
in 1851 he was a member of a prosperous firm of auctioneers. He was a 
Democratic assemblyman in the legislature, 1867 to 1868 (ColvilWs Direc- 
tory, 1856). 

449. James M. Taylor arrived in July, 1849. He was an assemblyman in 
1853 and 1859, representing in turn the Whig and Republican parties. 

466. William Sharon was bom in Ohio in 1821, and practiced law in 
that state before he left for the gold fields in the summer of 1849, Quickly 
realizing the wonderful future that was before California, and anticipating 
speedy rail communication with the East, he devoted himself to real estate 
speculations in San Francisco, and by 1862 his fortune was rated at $150,000. 
He was an able member of the first council under the charter of 1850, and 

450 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

inaugurated the first systematic and official survey of the city archives. His 
later mining and banking undertakings form a well-known chapter in the 
financial history of California and Nevada, and have enrolled him among 
the millionaires of the Pacific Coast (Bancroft, Chronicles of the Builders, 
IV, 23-78, portrait). 

501. John A. Sutter Jr. was the son of the famous pioneer of New 

507. Dr. Samuel Merritt was born in Maine in 1822, and on the day 
after the fire of May, 1850, he sailed into San Francisco Bay, the owner of 
a smart little brig, and of a cargo of merchandise which the devastated 
market quickly absorbed at a brilliant profit. He chartered his small vessel 
at $800 a month, and began the practice of his profession equipped with an 
excellent education, a happy ability to make friends, and a letter of intro- 
duction and recommendation from his friend, Daniel Webster. He did 
little in the Committee of '51, but was more active in that of '56. He 
was elected as a supervisor in the reform of politics that ensued, and there 
served as chairman of the committee of finance which accomplished marvels 
of economy for the depleted city treasury. He declined the nomination for 
mayor in 1858, but accepted a similar position in Oakland in 1867, and long 
maintained a leading position in that city. He was appointed a regent of 
the University of California in 1868. He died in 1891, and left a fortune 
that has endowed the great hospital in Oakland that bears his name (Phelps, 
Contemporary Biography, II, 92-100, portrait; obituary, San Francisco 
Examiner, 1890, Aug. 18 y{). 

509. Henry Wetherbee arrived in November, 1849, and in later years 
became one of the best known lumber manufacturers on the Coast. 

530. Eobert A. Parker was a native of Boston. He reached San 
Francisco in March, 1847, and became a member of the council elected in 
September of that year, and of the district legislature of 1849. He was 
for a time one of the town's most ambitious merchants, and is said to have 
indulged in the spectacular amusement of ''salting" Clay Street with two 
or three thousand dollars worth of coarse gold, just as the eastern passen- 
gers landed from the first steamer. The prospective Argonauts panned it 
out with delight and sent home jtibilant reports of the abundance of the 
precious metal. It is not surprising to find that the generous and imagin- 
ative pioneer failed in his commercial undertakings, and fortunately his 
impulsive nature seems to have exerted no influence on the affairs of the 
Committee of Vigilance (Swasey, Early Days, 210-211). 

573. Thomas J. L. Smiley was a native of Philadelphia and arrived 
in October, 1849. He was a partner of John Middleton (Number 440), and 
took an active interest in the affairs of the Committee after he was placed 
on the Executive Committee, in August. He was even more conspicuous 
in the reorganization in '56. Bancroft quoted a fellow Vigilante who called 

Biographioal Notes 451 

Smiley prompt in action, but talkative and excitable. His dictation is an 
interesting item of the Bancroft collection. He became a prominent broker, 
was first president of the California Stock and Exchange Board, and was 
also well known as a Eepublican politician (Popular Tribunals, II, 129-130; 
obituary, Alta, 1873, May 4 i/i; records of the Society of California Pio- 

580. Philip A. Roach reached California in August, 1849, and served 
as last alcalde and first mayor of Monterey. He was registered on the 
rolls of the Committee as a resident of the southern port, and tendered 
his resignation in August because of necessary absence from San Francisco. 
He served as a state senator in 1852, and distinguished himself by introducing 
a bill authorizing married women to conduct business as sole traders. He 
served again in 1853 and from 1873 to 1876, filled other important ofdces 
in subsequent years, and was long a successful leader of the Democratic 
party. He died April 27, 1889 (Bancroft, California, VI, 657 7iote; Upham, 
Notes, 497-500). 

588. Beverley C. Sanders was a ''Territorial Pioneer" of 1850 and 
became collector of the port of San Francisco in 1852. In the Committee 
he appears to have done little active work, but space must be allowed to 
repeat a Vigilante's anecdote of a later year when Sanders was sent to 
St. Petersburg by the Eussian-American Commercial Company to secure 
the privilege of transporting ice from Sitka to San Francisco. With 
audacity characteristic of a handsome and dashing pioneer, Mr. Sanders 
introduced himself as a colonel, and wore an impressive and becoming 
uniform. He was once inconveniently asked to which department of the 
army he belonged, but he preserved his dignity by promptly responding: 
''To the Pacific, Madam!" (Hittell, California, III, 433). 

598. Isaac M. Merrill was a Eepublican assemblyman in 1895. 

610. Henry Hiram Ellis was born in Maine in 1830, took to the sea, 
as had his family before him, and reached San Francisco in June, 1849. 
In California he experienced vicissitudes of mining life and was interested 
in shipping ventures. From 1855 to 1877 he Avas connected with the San 
Francisco police, became chief of the force, and left a fine record for 
eflaciency. During the Civil War he held the position of deputy United 
States assistant provost-marshal (Phelps, Contemporary Biography, I, 379- 
384, portrait; Alta, 1866, Feb. 4 i/i; 1871, Jan. 13 %; 1875, Dec. 7 Vs). 

616. Herman Wohler was a German immigrant who reached California 
in February, 1848. He was elected a Democratic assemblyman in Septem- 
ber, 1851, and served again in 1856. Bancroft said that he was famous 
as a musician {California, V, 779). 

654. John Stoneacre Ellis, and his brother, 

682. Augustus Van Home Ellis, came from New York city in 1849. 
They did no conspicuous work in 1851, although John was elected to the 

452 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

Executive Committee in March, 1852. He was more prominent in 1856, 
and was presented with the banners of the Committee as a token of esteem 
and affection. The name of Augustus appears once in a report of August 31, 
1851, although it is so illegible that it was printed as ''Hawthorne" Ellis 
on page 582 of the Papers. Both of the brothers served with distinction 
in the Civil War, and Augustus, a colonel, was killed at Gettysburg (data 
furnished by a niece, Mrs. Vanderlynn Stow, of San Francisco). 

662. Daniel Cronin served as one of the secretaries of the Democratic 
mass meeting of October 25, 1849 {Annals, 236). 

665. Jacob E. Snyder was born in Philadelphia, August 23, 1812. He 
was one of the Swasey-Todd party that crossed the plains and arrived in 
California in September, 1845. For a while he made shingles near Santa 
Cruz, then served as a major in the California Battalion, and was appointed 
surveyor general of the middle department of California during the admin- 
istration of Colonel Mason. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Con- 
vention of 1849, and in 1850 became a banking associate of James King 
of William. His membership in the Committee was brief, as he resigned 
to take his seat as a Democratic senator, being one of four Vigilantes 
elected to the legislature in September, 1851. He remained in office for 
two terms, and also served as sub-treasurer of the United States mint, 
1854 to 1860. He was a fearless man, sturdy and independent, made a 
success of commercial life and retired in 1869 to a beautiful home in the 
Sonoma Valley. He died April 29, 1878 (Swasey, Early Days, 172-177; 
Eldredge, California, III, 310, portrait; Bancroft, Calif ornisi, V, 726; 
Willey, Transition Period, 117; San Francisco Call, 1890, Sept. 8 %). 


Handbill Issued in San Francisco, February 22, 1851 

Following the Attack on C. J, Jansen 

Citizens of San Francisco 

The series of murders and robberies that have been committed in this 
city, without the least redress from the laws, seems to leave us entirely in 
a state of anarchy. ' ' When thieves are left without control to rob and kill, 
then doth the honest traveller fear each bush a thief!" Law, it appears, 
is but a nonenity to be scoffed at; redress can be had for aggression but 
through the never failing remedy so admirably laid down in the code of 
Judge Lynch. Not that we should admire this process for redress, but that 
it seems to be inevitably necessary. 

Are we to be robbed and assassinated in our domiciles, and the law to 
let our aggressors perambulate the streets merely because they have fur- 
nished straw bail? If so, let ''each man be his own executioner." ''Fie 
upon your laws! " They have no force. 

All those who would rid our city of its robbers and murderers, will 
assemble on Sunday, at two o'clock, on the Plaza. (Alta Calif ornixi, 1851, 
Feb. 23, %. See supra, p. 172.) 

The Popular Trial of Windred and Berdue, San Francisco, 

February 22, 1851 

Described by William T. Coleman 

I said, ''We don't want a mob; we ^vill not have a mob! But let us 

organize as becomes men. Let it be done immediately, here, as a committee 

of citizens, and as a court, and coolly maintain the right, and insist upon it. 

These men can be tried in three hours time, and the truth known as clearly 

then as it ever can be The witnesses are all here. If any delays 

are allowed, they will probably be spirited away, as others have been here- 
tofore, and justice cheated, and the high-handed outrages, lately so com- 
mon, will be encouraged, continued and increased." A loud response went 
up on every side. I then said, "All who are in favor of this motion, that 
we organize and take this business in our own hands immediately, will 

signify it by saying, Aye. ' ' There was one unanimous shout and yell 

I moved into the inner hall, which had been used I believe as a court room, 
and the mob moved with me. I mounted a chair, and asked that the assem- 
blage should select a good citizen, one of the best men in the city, to act 

454 Vigilcmce ComrmUee of 1851 

as Judge. Mr. Spence, an English merchant I think, was soon selected, 
and upon invitation, took the seat of the Judge. I then proposed that a 
jury be impaneled, to consist of a dozen of the best citizens. I then pro- 
posed that counsel be selected, or that they might volunteer. For the 
prisoners. Hall McAllister, Calhoun Benham, and Judge Shattuck volun- 
teered and were soon at the post. I asked for volunteers for the prosecution, 
and on all sides they cried out that I must conduct the prosecution. I asked 
if I must be alone, and they insisted, "Yes," that they were all with me. 
.... I then required that the prisoners be in the immediate charge of our 
friends, and it was responded to. As it had by this time grown to be about 
noon, I proposed that the mass of people should adjourn to their homes, get 
their mid-day meal, and come back to prepare for the work of the after- 

One purpose I had in the adjournment was to call upon some of the 

leading citizens — Howard, Green, Brannan and others I wanted 

the co-operation of the oldest, best known and most valued citizens. I 
was very young, partly unknown, and did not want to make a misstep nor 
a mistake, and felt that the course, under the circumstances, was the better 
one. I believed that I could soon convince them of it, and I wanted to 
prevent any needless opposition, should such a thing be contemplated, and 
catch any valuable suggestions that might be dropped. I drove to the resi- 
dence of some, asked friends who flocked around me to see others, and had 
soon canvassed the subject with all I could reach. The result was that a 
number of those who had acted with the mayor heartily joined us and pro- 
ceeded to the Court House. Others simply refrained, saying they were 
willing for the people, if they wished, to follow the course adopted in the 
morning. They pretty much all admitted the almost positive certainty of 
a mob and a mob execution, unless a better direction were given to our 
highly excited people, and that a fair trial in the way I proposed, though 
a hasty one, would be far preferable. (MS Statement, 7-10, passim. See 
supra, p. 174.) 

Organization of Crime in this State 

Extract from the San Francisco Herald, June 5, 1851 

The recent detection of a band of marauders at Stockton, developing a 

brotherhood in crime extending throughout the' entire country, and the 

watchfulness of the people, both there and in this city, gives promise that, 

with a united effort in every portion of the country infested by these 

scoundrels, we shall soon be rid of their depredations It is full time 

some means were adopted to rid the country of this organization. The 
commencement should be made in this city, and the means are very simple. 
.... A committee of citizens should be appointed — those acquainted with 
them should be employed to point out these notorious characters — a vessel 

Documentary AppeTidix 455 

should be chartered and victualled, and every man known to the police to be 
implicated in crime, should be placed on board and sent out of the country. 
Hanging would have an excellent example unquestionably, but hanging one 
or two will not rid the community of the remainder. Let a general war 
be made on those scoundrels — quietly and without bloodshed let it be — but 
wdth the distinct intimation that should they ever return they will be sum- 
marily dealt with. We believe that to send them out of the country is the 
only effectual method of getting rid of those pests, and we trust the method 
will be adopted. (See supra, p. 184.) 

Extract trom the Stockton Journal 

Printed in the San Francisco Herald, June 10, 1851 

To THE Public 

Citizens of Stockton: Without any war cry we already have an enemy 
in our country and in the midst of our town. The signal is Theft! Murder! ! 
Fire!!! .... 

Our laws are treated ivith contumely; our respectable citizens are sup- 
planted by w^holesale hordes of refuse from Sydney and other countries, 
Avho find how easily in California they can resume their old trades of rob- 
bery, plunder and incendiarism, and soon this golden country mil be knoA\'n 
only as the rendezvous for pirates by land and Avater. 

Citizens! We are as yet strong enough to meet the enemy, and the 
remedy is with ourselves. 

The laws are good for peaceful times, but not for such a state of turmoil 
as the present. For such uncommon times, we should have equally stringent 
measures to meet them. 

Citizens! in such an emergency you have to frame your own laws. The 
country is in danger and there is no time to wait. 

The government and the people are one! Show that, if necessary, you 
can rule yourselves! All hope of justice is fallacious. Citizens of Stockton, 
our toAvn is also included in the warfare. Fire, robbery, and murder are the 
order of the day. Wait not until it is too late, but call a meeting, appoint 
a commission and proclaim at once martial law, and lead the way. 

All industrious men earn a living : the sick and infirm w^e are glad to help, 
but the thief, incendiary and murderer can expect no mercy at our hands. 

In martial law there are some few inconveniences, but the good citizen 
will not object to that which wiU assure his life and property, and the 
guilty being executed on the spot will prevent our prisons from filling, con- 
sequently the prisoners from escaping. ^ Waldo 

(See supra, p. 184.) 

456 Vigilance Comm/ittee of 1851 

Propositions for Public Safety 
Extract from Alia Calif ornm, June 8, 1851 

Messrs. Editors — You are very well aware that the engrossing and 
absorbing topic at present, in this community .... is the insecurity of 
our lives and property, owing to our city's being infested with the most 
desperate and determined and Avell organized band of villains with which 

any population was ever cursed Desperate diseases require desperate 

remedies, and though the remedies I am about to suggest may not be 
strictly in accordance with the law, I believe the time has come when it is 
demonstrated that we must be a law unto ourselves, and there are enough 
good men and true who are ready to take hold and make root and branch 
work of this infernal system of crime which now stalks forth boldly in our 

I propose then, to establish a committee of safety, whose business it 
shall be to board, or cause to be boarded, every vessel coming in from 
Sydney, and inform the passengers that they will not be allowed to land, 
unless they can satisfy this committee that they are respectable and honest 
men .... and let any one transgressing this order be shot down without 

The next remedy I would propose would be to appoint a committee of 
vigilance, say of twenty men, in each ward, whose duty it shall be to hunt 
out these hardened villains .... and give them five days to leave the city, 
warning them at the same time that after that a war of extermination will 
be commenced against them. ... It may be well to call a public meeting 

in the square, to organize and carry out these views Without this, 

or some similar plan, the evil cannot be remedied, and if there is not spirit 
enough amongst us to do it, why then in God 's name let the city be burned, 
and our streets flow with the blood of murdered men. I will do what I 
can to defend myself and take my chance with others, but I will not believe 
this is so, and trust that immediate public action will take place. 


(Written by E, S. Watson. See supra, p. 184.) 

Crime in San Francisco 

Extract from the California Courier, June 10, 1851 

It is clear to every man that San Francisco is partially in the hands of 
Criminals, and that crime has reached a crisis where the fate of life and 
property are in imminent jeopardy. There is no alternative now left us 
but to lay aside business and direct our whole energies as a people to seek 
out the abodes of these villains and execute summary vengeance upon them. 
. . . . What now shall be done? Are we to continue to threaten, and nothing 

Documentary Appendix 457 

more? .... Why stop, under the present unsafe and uncertain state of 
affairs, to have a thief, or one who attempts to fire the city, placed in the 
hands of law officers, from whose clutches they can, with ease, be relieved 
by false swearing, and the ingenuity of laA\'yers? or what is equally as 
certain, their escape from prison? Where the guilt of the criminal is clear 
and unquestionable, the first law of nature demands that they be instantly 
shot, hung, or burned alive We must strike terror into their hearts. 

Those who object to this summary and terrible mode of punishment, 
ought to recollect the men who were burned to death in the last fire. In 
thus punishing these criminals we may save the lives of hundreds of innocent 

beings We can bear these things no longer. No man, since we 

became a city, has been hung in San Francisco. Some fifty murders have 
been committed, but no murderer has suffered death for his crimes. 

We ask again, what shall be done? We are in the midst of a revolution, 
and we should meet the emergencies of our condition with firm hearts and 
well-braced nerves. We have no time to talk about the defects of the laws — 
of the dangers which beset us; but we must act, and act at once — act as 

men do in revolutionary times We hope a meeting of the people will 

be called to-morrow afternoon, at 4 o'clock, in the Plaza, to organize a 
powerful force, and to establish some system of measures to rid this com- 
munity of the criminals who infest it Men of San Francisco, act, 

and act at once. (See supra, p. 185.) 

The Ogranization of the Committee of Vigilance Described by the 


Statement of James Neall, Jr. 
On Sunday fJune 8] .... George Oaks, [Oakes] .... in conver- 
sation with me, upon the perilous condition of society at that time, said 
we ought to take some steps to see if we could not change these things, and 
suggested that we should go up and have a talk with Sam Brannan, and 
we went up to Brannan 's office, on the N. E. corner of Sansome & Bush 
Sts. We there found Mr. Brannan and his clerk, and sat doAvn and talked 

the matter [over] We discussed the subject, and .... concluded 

that something must be done, and it was suggested that each one of us 
should give Mr. Brannan 's clerk, Mr. Wardwell, the names of such men 
as we could mention, whom we knew to be reliable, to invite them to meet us 
at 12 o'clock noon the next day, at the California Engine House .... to 
devise some means of protecting ourselves from the depredations of this 
hoard of ruffians, who seemed to have possession of the city. There was 
no such thing as doing anything with them before the Courts; that had 
been tried in vain. Notices were sent out to parties to the effect that they 

458 Vigilance Committee of 1851 

were nominated, each as chairman of. a committee for his neighborhood, to 
invite their fellow citizens, good reliable men, to meet .... as above 

In pursuance of that call, at 12 o'clock on Monday, there was a large 
gathering, so that the room was crowded. There they entered into a dis- 
cussion upon the evils by which we were surrounded, and .... what the 
remedy should be ... . and the meeting then adjourned, to assemble again 
that evening at the old Brannan building, on the jST. W. corner of Sansome 
and Bush Sts. for the purpose of organization and settlement of a course 
of action. The adjourned meeting was held that evening, and a partial 
organization was effected, and they adjourned to meet on Tuesday evening 
at the same place. There they perfected the organization, and determined 
upon a method by which the society should be called together, in case of 
any disturbance, which was three taps of the bell on the California Engine 
House at the junction of Bush and Market Sts. The bell was not on the 
engine house but was on the ground. (MS Statement, 1-3.) 

Statement of William T. Coleman 

I had nothing more to do with public matters until I received one day 
a circular, signed, I think, by Col. J. D. Stevenson, asking me to meet a 
number of good citizens of the place, the next evening, at the building of 
Mr. Samuel Brannan .... to consult on measures needed for the safety 
of life and property in the city. This was on [Tuesday] the 10th of June, 
1851. I was early at the building, and found a number of gentlemen there, 
probably thirty or forty already. An organization was formed, and the 
objects of the meeting stated, ^vith a brief discussion. Articles had been 
already prepared for the mode of organization, and some thirty or forty 
names were enrolled, and it was styled the Committee of Vigilance of San 
Francisco, the avowed objects of the Committee being to vigilantly watch 
and pursue the outlaws and criminals who were infesting the city, and bring 
them to justice, through the regularly constituted courts, if that could be, 
through more summary and direct process, if must be. Each member 
pledged his word of honor, his life and fortune if need be, for the protection 
of his fellow members, for the protection of life and property of the citizens 
and of the community, and for purging the city of the bad characters who 
were making themselves odious in it. After arranging for concert of 
action, watchwords, and a signal to be used to call the members to the 
rendezvous .... and detailing officers for immediate duty, enrolling a 
number of members, all among the most respectable, substantial and well- 
known citizens of the place, and the disposition of some needed business, — 
the committee adjourned for the evening. (MS Statement, 17-18.) 

Documentary Appendix 459 

Official Announcement of the Committee of Vigilance 

On June 13, 1851, the San Francisco Herald and the Alta Cali- 
fornia printed the constitution of the Committee of Vigilance, and 
also the following official announcement: 

WHEREAS, the citizens of San Francisco convinced that there exists 
within its limits a band of robbers and incendiaries, who have several times 
burned and attempted to burn their city, who nightly attack their persons 
and break into their buildings, destroy their quiet, jeopardize their lives 
and property, and generally disturb the natural order of society; And 
WHEEEAS many of those taken by the police have succeeded in escaping 
from their prisons by carelessness, by connivance, or from want of proper 
means or force to secure their safe confinement, therefore be it 

RESOLVED, That the citizens of this place be made aivare that the 
Committee of Vigilance will be ever ready to receive information as to the 
whereabouts of any disorderly or suspicious person or persons, as well as 
the persons themselves when suspected of crime. 

RESOLVED, That as it is the conviction of a large portion of our 
citizens, that